The U.S. Air Force announced Wednesday it will invest millions of dollars in the work of rocket companies SpaceX and Orbital ATK, in hopes of ending dependence on Russian rocketry for security payload launches.
In a press release, the U.S. Department of Defense emphasized its award of approximately $47 million to Orbital ATK “requires the development of a next-generation rocket propulsion system that will transition away from the use of the Russian-supplied RD-180 engine to a domestic alternative for National Security Space launches”—a deal also in place with SpaceX, which received roughly $34 million for the same purpose.
There is no specific reason stated in the release why the need to get away from the RD-180 is so important, but there has been recent tumultuousness in Russia’s space program—with Russian President Vladimir Putin abolishing the Russian Federal Space Agency, then replacing it with a state-run space corporation.
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