Rss@dailykos.com (darksyde) · Monday, May 23, 2016, 10:15 pm
Between a missing commuter jet, shots fired near the White House, and the inexhaustible stink of campaign shenanigans left and right, it would be easy to miss a critical debate affecting everything from NASA to national security. But that is exactly what is unfolding in Washington. At issue is access to orbit using Russian-built RD 180 rocket engines in the Atlas V launch vehicle, which is favored for recon satellites. Last week an article in the Wall Street Journal appeared, arguing that not allowing that to continue could result in cost overruns:
Controversy over using Russian rocket engines to launch Pentagon satellites has spilled over to potentially threaten the financial viability of certain U.S. civil space programs, according to some aerospace-industry officials. .. “We’re concerned about that,” he told members of the panel. “Reduction in flight rate could increase the cost of” individual Atlas V launches, he said, and “eventually be an impact” on commercial crew transportation. Mr. Elbon didn’t elaborate on the likely size of increases.
Concern about cost overruns as a justification for continuing to rely on Russia rings hollow. NASA contracts are fixed-price contracts, meaning United Launch Alliance won’t be able to unilaterally increase their prices and pass the costs along to taxpayers. Moreover, it’s exactly that kind of erroneous thinking that got us into this needless dilemma in the first place.
NASA is in no danger of being overcharged. But if we really want to resolve this for good, launch companies based in the U.S. are virtually guaranteed to be cheaper and safer, and the jobs would stay here. Plus, if we pick up the pace of funding just a little, we won’t have to worry about Putin having any control over the U.S. space program or national security, and that could begin as early as next year.