Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) spoke on the Senate floor for more than 15 minutes Wednesday afternoon to discuss the current effect of the Ukraine crisis on US-Russia space relations, including comments by Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin on Tuesday regarding restrictions on the use of RD-180 engines and the life of the International Space Station after 2020. “I wanted to give the Senate and all of those in the press that have been asking me the best of what I could conclude at this point,” he said.
Much of his speech (available on C-SPAN; skip ahead to the five-hour mark) dealt with the history of US-Soviet/Russian cooperation in space, including the decision to make use of the RD-180 engine. He also mentioned the ongoing Defense Department study on RD-180 alternatives and fallback positions if the supply of engines is restricted, including stretching out the supply of the stockpile of RD-180 engines and shifting payloads to other launch vehicles.
“We’re going to have some major decisions to make here,” he said, include determining how to ensure assured access to space for both military and civil payloads. Some of those decisions could come as soon as next week, he said, when the Senate Armed Services Committee marks up its version of the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The House version of the NDAA, passed last week before Rogozin’s latest threats to the RD-180 supply, included a provision calling for development of a new liquid-propellant rocket engine that could replace the RD-180 by the end of the decade.
Nelson didn’t provide any strong opinions on how he felt those questions should be answered, although he may have dropped a hint by suggesting that, if the RD-180 supply is interrupted, some national security payloads could be shifted to the Falcon 9, which he called a “very successful” rocket. “These are the questions we’re going to have to answer,” he said, “and they’re going to have to be answered in the near future.”