The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft onboard is seen shortly after Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, December 2, 2015. (AFP photo)
Two US companies have ordered a new batch of Russian rocket engines for civil and commercial launches, shortly after Congress removed a ban on using such rockets.
United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, said Wednesday it had ordered 20 new RD-180 rocket engines from Russia on top of 29 engines it ordered last year.
The Russian engines will be used to lift off the Atlas 5 rockets until a new American-made engine is developed and certified, the ULA said.
Jessica Rye, a ULA spokesperson, said that Russia will start delivering the new engines once all of the previous orders are received. Eight engines have been delivered so far this year, she said.
The US had made the initial order of 29 engines before Western sanctions against Russia banned their use following the conflict in Ukraine.
The new order on 20 engines came after Congress enacted a massive spending bill that eased a ban on using Russian engines to launch US military and intelligence satellites for the 2016 fiscal year.
A provision in the new spending bill allows companies to compete for rocket launch contracts regardless of the origin of their engines until a new US-built engine was ready.
The US Defense Department’s chief arms buyer, Frank Kendall, said the Pentagon remained committed to ending its reliance on the Russian engines.
A Russian RD-180 rocket engine (Photo by NPO Energomash)
The deal was met with fierce response from Senator John McCain, who accused Washington of double standards, describing the move as “the height of hypocrisy.”
“How can our government tell European countries and governments that they need to hold the line on maintaining sanctions on Russia, which is far harder for them to do, when we are gutting our own policy in this way?” McCain said on Wednesday.
The news came on the heels of a recent decision by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to end its reliance on Russian technology for manned missions to the International Space Station.
NASA has paid billions of dollars to Boeing and SpaceX to come up with an alternative to Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
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