| WASHINGTON, June 16
WASHINGTON, June 16 The rocket launch company
run by Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp on
Monday said it had signed contracts with multiple U.S. firms to
work on a next-generation rocket engine as an alternative to a
Russian engine now used for key launches.
United Launch Alliance (ULA), the joint venture run by the
two largest U.S. weapons makers, said it would choose one of the
companies to develop a new engine by the fourth quarter, which
would enable initial launches by 2019.
The U.S. Defense Department, spurred by growing concerns
over Russia's actions in Ukraine, has said it wants to end its
dependency on Russian engines to power rockets that launch
national security satellites into space.
Controversy about the Russian rocket engine has also put a
spotlight on Space Exploration Technologies, a privately held
company, that is seeking U.S. Air Force certification so it can
compete for some of the U.S. government rocket launches.
SpaceX last month sued the Air Force for excluding it from a
multibillion-dollar 36-launch contract awarded to ULA.
ULA said it had signed commercial contracts with multiple
firms to investigate next-generation liquid oxygen/hydrocarbon
first stage propulsion concepts. It provided no details on the
names of the companies involved or the cost.
Aerojet Rocketdyne, a unit of GenCorp, has said it is
potentially interested in working on a new engine. It was not
immediately clear which other companies might be involved.
ULA said each firm would carry out a technical feasibility
analysis, develop plans, identify schedule, cost and technical
risks, and cost estimates.
"As the nation's steward of the launch industrial base and
the only company certified to launch our nation's most critical
missions, it is incumbent upon ULA to bring forward the best
solutions to preserve that capability for the future," said
Michael Gass, president and chief executive of ULA.
He said the current RD-180 engine, used for the company's
Atlas rockets, had been a remarkable success, but it was time to
invest in a U.S. engine.
ULA said it would continue to work with U.S.-based RD
AMROSS, a joint venture of United Technologies Corp and
Russia's NPO Energomash, to study the long-term feasibility of
the RD-180 engine in competition with the new engine.
It said the companies were discussing product improvements,
U.S. production of the engine and other enhancements.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ken Wills)