Impacts from a loss of the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine are significant and action must be taken during fiscal year 2014 to mitigate those impacts, according to a key Defense Department report.
The summary from the key RD-180 study panel convened by DoD suggests issuing an acquisition decision memorandum (ADM) directing the development of a new liquid oxygen (LOX) oxidizer/hydrocarbon fuel rocket engine. It also suggests including a next-generation launch vehicle and directing full funding in a FY ’16 program objective memorandum (POM) toward the engine.
DoD earlier this year convened the panel to study life with or without the RD-180. Air Force spokesman Capt. Matthew Stines said on May 21 the RD-180 summary contains some of the information in the full review. Stines said DoD has been briefed on the results of the study and no decisions have been made. The story was first reported by Bloomberg and the summary was posted online by Aviation Week.
Key findings in the summary include without additional RD-180s, the national launch baseline manifest is not supportable beyond March 2016. There are 38 Atlas V missions on manifest and only 16 RD-180s in stock. The Atlas V uses the RD-180 as a first stage engine.
It could cost DoD between $2.5 billion and $5 billion in cost and commercial impacts if the RD-180 can no longer be flown. An option for the United States to co-produce the engine domestically would not improve the current situation, the summary said. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin allegedly threatened recently to cut off supplies of the RD-180 to the United States if it used them in military launches. The RD-180 is developed by Russian firm NPO Energomash.
The summary suggested accelerating the RD-180 engine buy to preserve what it called “Phase 1″ schedule and facilitate competition. It also said neither the Delta IV launch vehicle nor new entrants could fully replace the Atlas V through FY ’17. The Delta IV is the other launch vehicle used in U.S. national security space launches. It does not use the RD-180, but it is also more expensive than Atlas V.
The RD-180 study committee was composed of: retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Howard “Mitch” Mitchell (chair); Schafer Corp. CEO and former NASA Administer Michael Griffin (deputy chair); retired Air Force Gen. Thomas Moorman (senior adviser); Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics for Special Security Instruction Airspace (OUSD AT&L/SSI) Air Force Col. Eric Krystkowiak; NASA’s Jim Norman; National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) Air Force Col. Pat Youngson; Air Force’s Rob Bongiovi and Curt Khol from the Office of the Secretary of Defense/Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (OSD/CAPE).