“Tomorrow, I will be introducing legislation with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to strike language airdropped into the 2,000 page omnibus bill last month. This legislation is the first in many actions I will take this year to ensure we end our dependence on Russian engines,” McCain said.
In 2014, the US Congress strictly limited future purchases of the RD-180 at the same time it imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia. It passed a law requiring the United States to develop a domestically produced next-generation rocket propulsion system by 2019 in order to eliminate reliance on the Russian RD-180 rocket engines.
In December, Congress passed an all-encompassing 2,200-page budget that includes a provision allowing the United States to continue purchasing the Russian RD-180 rocket engines, which it uses for national defense and other space launches.
The ability of the United States to develop a next generation space launch system is being held back by a US law restricting the purchase and use of the Russian RD-180 rocket engine, US Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said on Wednesday.
"Unfortunately, the NDAA [2016 defense spending bill] limits our efforts in FY16 to development of rocket engines, and of course we are complying with this requirement," James told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
James added that under the NDAA, the Pentagon is forced to focus solely on finding a replacement rocket engine for the currently reliable Atlas 5 rocket platform. Ending the use of the RD-180, used in the Atlas 5, would result in the sole US dependence on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for assured access to space.