There is a rocket shortage. At least, according to the United States Air Force.

United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, will need to buy up to 22 RD-180 rocket engines to continue space endeavors and be able to compete with SpaceX bids. ULA provides services for space-bound Department of Defense missions.

RD-180 test firing
Wikimedia Commons

However, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act prohibited continued use of the RD-180 engines. The engine is made by NPO Energomash, a Russian company, whose engines take Soyuz crafts to the ISS. After the annexation of Crimea, Congress decided to ban further contracts involving Russian made flight equipment for defense purposes. ULA has been a major buyer; in 2013, of the 11 engines produced, the ULA bought 8.

Domestic firms are vying to be the alternative for imports. Blue Origin -- a rocket firm owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos -- is making all-American engines for the ULA Vulcan craft, but won’t be ready until 2019. Plus they won't gain military launch certification until 2022. That is the most optimistic time table, not accounting for any setbacks.

Until then, the ULA Atlas 5 could be shut out from contracts, pending recent requests for revision of the legislation that would allow use of the Russian engines. 

Sources: SpaceNews
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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