Michael Schaus

The latest news to come out of Ukraine doesn’t involve Vice President Joe Biden, European natural gas supplies, or Vladimir Putin’s insatiable appetite for the resurrection of the Soviet Union. In fact, it hits a bit closer to home. America’s spy satellites, as it turns out, is dependent upon Russian provided technology to reach orbit.

That’s right… Not only are our astronauts hitching rides to the Russian-run “international” space station, but even our spy satellites have to hitch a ride via Putin’s Russian Military industrial complex. And any sanctions that could come out of the situation in Ukraine, may just put the future of those missions in some peril. And the worst part is that American built technology, from American Companies, is being denied the opportunity to replace the Putin approved tech upon which our space missions depend.

At issue is the engine for the Atlas V rocket that places our satellites into orbit. The RD-180 is sold to the United Launch Alliance (a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin) for use in the Atlas V. And while the ULA claims to have enough engines in stock to last the agency roughly 2 – 3 years, they may soon be buying up more engines from Vladimir before sanctions are put in place, according to Capitol Hill insiders.

According to ULA, American made replacement engines are several years away… Which begs the question, “are we really that far behind” in space age technology? Well… No. It seems that ULA simply enjoys their monopolistic handle on American space technology. Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, has developed all American-made alternatives to the Russian engines. And just like a good old-fashioned capitalist, Musk’s technology is significantly cheaper. (But, I guess saving the taxpayers some expense isn’t a real concern unless we’re talking about soldier pay, or foreign aid.)

According to the ULA, any sanctions that might inhibit their ability to acquire future RD-180’s, would be self-destructive to American interests:

Import restrictions of RD-180 engines by our own government would have a minor effect on Russia, as 90 percent of Russian exports to the U.S. are raw materials. It imposes an artificial crisis in the U.S. domestic launch market, one that only serves to impede U.S. capabilities to launch critical payloads.

So… Why, exactly, are we willing to be so dependent on a foreign power that thrives off of injecting instability throughout the world? Especially given the existence of cheaper domestic alternatives?

Michael Schaus

Michael Schaus is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute and is responsible for managing the organization’s messaging with the public, the media and NPRI’s membership.

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