A US Senate Panel Just Set Aside £59.4 Million to Build a Putin-Free Rocket
Could the budgetary shot in the arm the US space program so desperately needs come from rising tensions between Russia and the US? In the latest development, a Senate panel has budgeted $100 million to fund a state-of-the-art rocket engine designed and built in America.
Right now, most of what we blast into space is powered by an engine called the RD-180. It's actually fascinating story: The RD-180 was developed in the USSR long before the iron curtain fell, a legendary piece of machinery that far surpassed anything the US had managed to build.When the Soviet Union ended, the program was ended, and the RD-180 was forgotten. It wasn't until the 90s that it was rediscovered, as Richard Martin explained a few years back in Wired:
In 1993, a group of American defence contractors visited the Moscow rocket factory. "We looked at the Russian stuff and did a number of calculations to understand what they were telling us," says Bob Ford, who headed the group and now directs Lockheed Martin's reusable launch vehicle. "It was eye-popping."
And the rest is history, we've been using Russian-made rockets ever since. And that's been fine, until, of course, tensions rose over Russia's involvement in the Ukraine. Now, the space programs of both US and Russia exist in a tangled web, and untangling them is going to be messy. Earlier this month, Russia announced it would block the sale of RD-180 engines to the US for any military purposes.