Russia Reveals a Big Risk to America's Most Important Space Rocket -- Its Russian Engine

There's a new space race afoot -- and the International Space Station is just one part of it. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

"Recent events in the Ukraine and our dependency on the Russians for transportation to the space station [make it] even more important to reignite our space program."

So argued Gene Grush, former head of the propulsion and power group at NASA's Johnson Space Center, in a series of articles published by Fox News earlier this year. But why is it so "important" that the U.S. "reignite" its space program? What sparked this sense of urgency, and what are America's space exploration companies doing to fix it?

The major impetus behind NASA's desire to free itself of Russian "dependency" was the threat leveled at Washington earlier this year by Russian Deputy Prime Ministry Dmitry Rogozin. Responding to sanctions that Washington imposed on Russia in the wake of the latter's invasion of Crimea, Rogozin promised Moscow would cut off the sale of its "RD-180" rocket engines for use by the American military (Russia may be rethinking that position -- or it may not).

This still leaves the question of why the RD-180 rocket engine is such a big deal. In the following slideshow, we'll try to lay out the dilemma for you -- and point out the companies that investors should be watching as we try to resolve the impasse. Take a quick look, and make sure to tune back in at the end for our special free report.

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Read/Post Comments (14) | Recommend This Article (17)

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  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 2:29 PM, martinbay wrote:

    SpaceX.... Orbital Sciences?

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 2:36 PM, lm1b2 wrote:

    Who really cares,Obama got rid of our Space Program,that the Russian program !

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 2:38 PM, Gavinsox wrote:

    Just another example where outsourcing works against our national security interests. As a matter of policy we should be building those rockets here in the US instead of in Russia or for that matter in any foreign country that is not an ally of the US. The Russians will now use the rockets as pawns in their political chess game and revert to blackmailing of the US to get what they want geopolitically. This is not a very good position for the US. Our government needs to reform our manufacturing policies and programs to be certain they are in line and consistent with our national security interests.

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 2:45 PM, Perry1212 wrote:

    It STILL amazes me how little our Federal Government understands when it comes to National Sovereignty and Sovereign jobs and manufacturing.. They won't understand it I'm afraid, until after a war breaks out and we can't get auto parts, computers, tvs and even weapons of war or air plane parts because they are ALL BEING BUILT OVERSEAS.. Our forefathers warned us.. OUR CONSTITUTION even went so far as to try to make us understand the importance of sovereignty, but our PRESIDENTS, the Globalist, still have no clue as to why.. DUMBED DOWN and / or , sold out ..

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 5:16 PM, akosibentot wrote:

    That's why a lot of people misses Werner Von Braun.

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 5:53 PM, VK wrote:

    We have 2 options:

    1. Not to pursue any farther sanctions on Russia

    2. Reverse engineer the RD-180. After all Russia did same with our Super fortress and called it TU-4.

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 7:36 PM, Monkey872 wrote:

    Or just use space x and private companies for now. The space x's falcon 9 and falcon heavy are reliable and will be more affordable because most or some (depending on the mission) will be reusable. That way you are not giving Russia money and taking away lockheed's monopoly on every thing aerospace. United States should invest in space x, which will be the most affordable space flight ever. Not hard to make this decision especially short term.

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 9:02 PM, shyfy wrote:

    but why the us wast time with with Russia rocket engine when the have flying saucers all back enginerd

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 9:06 PM, ronc151 wrote:

    The United States should have had a working rocket before retiring the Space Shuttle. The U.S. was counting on Russia to transport our Astronauts to the Space Station. At the time the U.S. Decommissioned the Shuttle Program we where friends with Russia.Friendship has a way of going sour in a moments notice.

    It would be the same as if I sold my car and depended on a friend to give me a ride to work. One day we are no longer friends, and I can't get to work!! The U.S. is no longer friends with Russia!!!!

    Our Astronauts may have to hitchhike to the Space Station?????

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2014, at 2:23 AM, madgame wrote:

    If Russia decides to go FULL-STOLI, then yea, it will hurt for a bit. But the human spaceflight program will be no worse off than it is today. The money-sucking ISS missions will be satisfied by pseudo-commercial companies eventually. The necessary capsules and rockets are designed, it just takes NASA/govt officials 1/2-a-decade to get their heads out of their poop-holes to certify them for human spaceflight.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2014, at 10:52 AM, jfelano wrote:

    This is an old story. First of all we have dozens of those rocket engines in stock, so we wont be running out any time soon....and we have other options.....and there are completely new rockets being developed as we speak but NASA and private companies. We have no use for these engines anymore really.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2014, at 1:08 PM, TheMoogly wrote:

    This is typical of how NASA works. They don't do anything except sub contract everything.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2014, at 8:52 PM, JBaldwin wrote:

    In 1996, the RD-180 project won the tender for developing and delivering the first stage engine for an updated PH Atlas rocket, manufactured by the US Lockheed Martin Corporation. The development of the engine, based on the series-produced RD-170/171, helped Energomash survive the hardest years for Russian rocket-building companies, - from the mid-1990s to the mid-zeros. An agreement was signed in 1997 on the delivery to the United States of 101 RD-180 engines until the end of 2018. By late last year, Energomash had supplied to the US more than 70 rocket engines for 10 million dollars each, which accounted for a sizeable part of the corporation’s revenues, - more than a third, according to some estimates. Given that the supply of engines to the home market yielded hardly any profit at the time, it is safe to claim that the RD-180 programme kept the corporation out of bankruptcy.

    Read more:

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2014, at 9:08 PM, JBaldwin wrote:

    Funny how the truth comes out when you look for it. The use of the RD-180 had nothing to do with government decisions . It hinges on an agreement and contract made by Lockheed Martin Corporation and the Russians company Energomash To develop a first stage engine for the Atlas rocket because it was more economical than creating one from scratch . It had nothing to do with decisions made by Bush or Obama. It was a joint venture between an American company and a Russian company that benefited both companies. The contract ends in 2018.

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Rich Smith

As a defense writer for The Motley Fool, I focus on defense and aerospace stocks. My job? Every day of the week, I'm monitoring the news, figuring out the winners and losers, and tracking down the promising companies for you to invest in. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the most important developments in defense & aerospace, and other great stories.

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