Elon Musk said today that given Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the U.S. should pay his company, SpaceX, for launch services into space, because his competitor uses a Russian engine in its rockets.
Appearing before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Defence Subcommittee, Musk pointed out that United Launch Alliance (ULA), a 50-50 joint venture owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, uses an Atlas V expendable rocket, powered in part by a Russian-built RD-180 engine.
So, he argued, paying ULA instead of SpaceX to provide launches into outer space for the U.S. government is bad for America’s self-interest:
“In light of Russia’s de facto annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the formal severing of military ties, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing assured access to space for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin’s permission.”
SpaceX, in contrast, uses the Falcon 9 rocket, built with American parts. No Putin permission needed to get those.
ULA President and CEO Michael Gass also testified at the hearing, and was asked by Senator Dick Durbin about ULA’s relationship with the Russian company that builds the RD-180 engine. Gass said first that ULA has engines stockpiled, so trouble with Russia would not be an issue if the federal government needed to launch a rocket.
He added that ULA owns the blueprints and specifications for the engine, and has demonstrated that it can build the engine itself if necessary.
The goal of the Senate hearing was to find ways to save money on the space launch program. Musk also argued for more competitive contracts, saying SpaceX can provide reliable service at a lower cost than ULA.
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