15:12 GMT07 April 2020
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    US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that the US industry could replace Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines by 2019.

    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Full US space launch capability may be delayed beyond 2019 if it cuts its supply of Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines, US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

    "Industry tells us… [they can] make 2019 for an engine, but I must say an engine alone will not get us to space. It needs to be integrated with a rocket, it needs to be tested, it needs to be certified, and to get all of that done, to have a launch capability will be longer than 2019," James said.

    The United States currently relies on the Atlas V rocket powered by Russia’s RD-180 engine for its national defense space launches. In 2014, the Congress instituted a law requiring the Pentagon to cut its reliance on the RD-180 after the downturn in US-Russia relations.

    A ULA Atlas V rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Wednesday, May 20, 2015.
    © AP Photo / United Launch Alliance via AP
    US companies are currently competing to produce engines to replace the RD-180, but the full flight certification process and focus on a single component of the space launch platform would result in delays and higher costs, James noted.

    Only two families of launch vehicle, the Atlas and the Delta rockets, are able to reach the full range of orbits and carry the heaviest payloads for the United States. In January, the US Air Force awarded contracts to Orbital ATK and SpaceX to develop prototypes of US-built rocket engines to replace the RD-180.


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