As the House of Representatives prepares to debate the fiscal year 2015 defense appropriations bill this week, the White House has come out in opposition to one of the bill’s space-related provisions: $220 million to start development of a large rocket engine to replace the Russian-built RD-180.
“The Administration objects to the unrequested $220 million for a new rocket engine,” the Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) about the defense appropriations bill, released late yesterday, states. “This approach prematurely commits significant resources and would not reduce our reliance on Russian engines for at least a decade.” The SAP also cites an unnamed “independent study” that claims development of such an engine would take eight years and cost $1.5 billion, plus “another $3 billion needed to develop a suitable launch vehicle.” (The SAP doesn’t identify this study by name; the summary of the “Mitchell Report” about the RD-180 that leaked last month doesn’t include those specific cost estimates, although it does state a new liquid oxygen/hydrocarbon engine should be ready by fiscal year 2022, or eight years from now.)
The SAP indicates that the Obama Administration is looking at other options to develop a new large domestic rocket engine. “With a goal of promptly reducing our reliance on Russian technology, the Administration is evaluating several cost-effective options including public-private partnerships with multiple awards that will drive innovation, stimulate the industrial base, and reduce costs through competition,” it states.
At an event hosted by The Atlantic Council in Washington last week, William A. LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said no decision had been made on whether to develop a large hydrocarbon engine. He added that the Air Force was open to alternative approaches, including the use of public-private partnerships, to develop one if they decided to go forward with that effort.