Russia space company Roscosmos has threatened to stop selling rocket engines to the United States. This threat is a form of Roscosmos’ response to global sanctions imposed on Russia.
With this threat, most rocket launches in the US should not be affected, but this decision could change the way cargo is delivered to the International Space Station (ISS).
The head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, announced the new policy in a TV interview. “Today we made the decision to stop shipping the rocket engines manufactured by NPO Energomash to the United States,” he said.
According to Rogizin, so far the delivery of rocket engines has been quite intensive since the 1990s. “Let them fly with something else, their broom or whatever,” he said.
This decision will affect two US space exploration companies, namely the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is the main provider of NASA launches, and the US Department of Defense.
Another company affected is Northrop Grumman, which periodically launches NASA cargo to the ISS.
Both companies rely on Russian rocket engines made by NPO Energomash to propel space vehicles into space.
Even so, ULA claims, it already has all the Russian-supplied engines it needs for its rockets. The company has also transitioned to American-made engines for new rides.
As for Northrop Grumman, this decision could halt future spacecraft flights.
ULA is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The company uses the Russian-made RD-180 engine to support the Atlas V rocket, which has been routinely launched for the past two decades.
The RD-180 itself had its previous controversies. Because when Russia invaded Mainland Crimea in 2014, the US Congress banned the use of these rocket engines to launch satellites.
However, the ban was lifted. ULA also began to develop a new rocket called the Vulcan that uses a country-made engine.
Now ULA has chosen Blue Origin to develop the rocket for the Vulcan. So far, Vulcan is still in development. As such, ULA still relies on Atlas V to continue its contract with the US government.
However, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said ULA is speeding up the transition from the RD-180 so the Vulcan can fly soon.
ULA is said to still have more than two dozen RD-180s at its plant in Decatur, Alabama. This availability is considered sufficient to carry out the remaining Atlas missions until 2025.
“We have an agreement on technical support and parts, but if that support is not available we can still fly our Atlas program,” said ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye.
Russia’s policy not to sell rocket engines to the US is seen as affecting Northrop Grumman with his Antares rocket. Antares uses the RD-181 engine made by NPO Energomash.
Rogozin claims, Russia still has to deliver dozens of types of rocket engines above. “We have a plan to deliver 12 RD-181 rocket engines in 2022-2024. But in this situation we cannot supply our best engines to the US,” Rogozin said.
The Antares rocket previously launched the company’s spacecraft used to carry NASA cargo to the ISS.
Northrop has two more rocket flights planned in the next few years. Currently, there is a Cygnus spacecraft that will test the ability to upgrade the ISS in April.
It’s not yet known how the changes will impact Northrop Grumman’s future rocket launches. Neither Northrop nor NASA have commented on this.
For NASA, to reach the ISS or deliver cargo there, they already have contracts with other space agencies, one of which is SpaceX.
Elon Musk’s company holds various contracts with NASA, both to send people and cargo to the ISS via Falcon 9 rockets.
Since all of these rocket kits and parts are made in the United States, SpaceX is relatively invulnerable to Russian threats.