June 8, 2016 – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) joined Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) yesterday in introducing an amendment (4509) to S.2943, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA), which provides funding for the Department of Defense (DoD).
The measure would allow for the DoD to purchase rockets from any certified launch provider between now and December 31, 2022 so long as the provider offers the best value to the DoD. The amendment promotes competition and protects national security by paving the way for assured access to space. At the same time, the amendment ensures fiscal responsibility as it has the potential to save DoD up to $5 billion.
“The DoD must have access to launch vehicles that it can afford,” said Gardner. “My amendment promotes competition and acknowledges the difficult fiscal environment by requiring the DoD to purchase rockets from certified providers that offer the best possible value. It also protects our national security by ensuring continued access to space, which is critical to the detection of missiles, transmitting secure communication, and gathering intelligence. In order for the United States to remain competitive when it comes to space exploration, the DoD should have the ability to conduct a fair and open contracting process that allows any certified launch provider to compete.”
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is headquartered in Centennial, Colorado and for the last ten years, has guaranteed access to space with its Atlas and Delta rockets. ULA has had a 100% success rate launching satellites into all eight orbits used by the DoD.
But despite its flawless launch record, ULA has come under attack for using Russian RD-180 rocket engines, which are used in the first stage of the Atlas rocket. Although use of the Russian engines dates back to the end of the Cold War, when the U.S. deemed it wise to employ Russian rocket scientists for national security reasons, this decision has come under scrutiny since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since that time, Congress has been debating the path forward to a new American engine and what to do in the interim.
In the meantime, ULA has started work on an all-American Vulcan rocket, but doesn’t expect it to be ready and certified by the DoD until the early 2020’s. It still has the Delta IV, but that rocket is typically only used for heavier satellites because of its higher cost. California-based SpaceX has also been certified to launch using its Falcon 9 rocket, which is less expensive than the Atlas V, but also less proven.