Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rocket Engine Controversy Continues to Undermine U.S. Space Security & Future Programs

Image for the news result
Russian rocket takes off from Baikonur Cosmodrome last year with supplies for the ISS.

As I noted in a post last year, the U.S. is undermining its own space security and the future of its space program by allowing dumpkopfs in the Repuke congress to play politics with our space programs.  In case people forgot,  the Russians came to the rescue of the ISS crew back on July 2nd, 2015  with three tons of food, fuel and other supplies ferried up, mere days after the Elon Musk private commercial rocket (Space-X)  failed miserably. That failed launch not only messed up reception of needed supplies but also caused consternation for more than 60 Colorado science students who had patiently prepared experiments - all of which came to perdition.

How was the Space-X different from the Russian rocket OR to the previous successful military spy satellite launches? This is the 64 dollar question that needs to be addressed. The primary difference is that the military-Pentagon has been using a proven performer in the Russian-produced RD-180 rocket engine (also used for the Soyuz)  which powers the Atlas V that lofts two thirds of all national security satellites.

As noted in a WSJ piece at the time ('National Security After the Space X Explosion', June 30, 2015, p. A18) by William Shelton, the U.S. government "encouraged Lockheed Martin to use this engine primarily because of its performance and relatively low cost."

Pretty straightforward, eh?  Well, for anyone of normal intelligence or higher, but evidently not a dumbass Reeptard congress, determined to teach those Russkies a lesson or two. And the Bozo who takes the cake is Sen. John McCain, who's instigated a brawl over the Air Force continuing to use RD-180 Russian rocket engines.  The doting Senator from AZ whose judgment has been an issue for years (after picking Sarah Palin as running mate in '08) now is trying to claim that the use of the RD-180 engines is a "threat to U.S. security" because the money from their sale to the U.S. is going into Vladimir Putin's pockets.

Fortunately, as noted in a recent WSJ article ('Air Force Plan on Rocket's Fate Is Under Attack', Mar. 7, p. B1) Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James went on the record to correct the old fart by noting she had no inside information on WHO was making money from rocket engine sales. Implying if ol' Johnno has some information he needs to make it known. She did tell an Armed Services Committee that if the AF followed McCain's edict (to use only U.S. engines) then "that would end up costing $5b above current projections".

Five billion bucks! That's enough to pay for free college tuition and room and board for 100,000 students for a year at a public university.  But let's try to unpack for readers why that is the case.  We note that two years ago congressional legislation was stupidly  passed that prohibits the use of any Russian-made engines on U.S. rockets.  As a result of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act which became law in December, 2014, the RD-180 Russian made engines were banned with the exception of the few remaining in stock. According to Shelton (ibid.):

"The purported rationale is to uphold Russian sanctions and avoid rewarding the country's bad behavior in Ukraine"

Which is totally stupid and irrational, given it puts pressure on a rapid phase out.  Anyway, an independent panel examining the phase out, and looking at different strategies, concluded that (WSJ, 3/7/16):  "a slower schedule is needed for deploying a domestic replacement roughly stretching through 2025.  "

Adding that this plan "would be less risky and probably save taxpayers billions of dollars".  Under this plan the AF would gradually shift satellites slated to be launched on the Atlas V rocket (using the RD 180 engines) to the Delta IV rocket (scheduled for retirement in 3 years and with U.S. made engines) 

The Air Force, however, strongly disagrees with the projected impact, estimating it will be much more. In fact, $5 billion more than the panel projects.   McCain, in his senile dotage, isn't buying this and wants a speedier phase out - not wanting the use of any Russkie engines for much longer. The problem is the extra costs will be in the billions and land right in U.S. taxpayers' laps. But I guess as a Senator gets older he doesn't really care.

What we know, as the WSJ piece makes clear, is that if a compromise isn't forthcoming this controversy could have much broader implications for the U.S. space future as well as space security with spy satellites. Do the moralistic repukes care? One wonders.

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