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SpaceX Failure Doesn’t Mean We Should Turn To Russia For Rocket Engines, McCain Says

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Despite the failure of SpaceX’s rocket launch Sunday, Washington should not place all its faith in Russian rocket engines, Sen. John McCain argued on Monday.

Political turmoil in Eastern Europe has made reliance on Russian RD-180 much more difficult, given that the U.S. aggressively applied restrictions on importing the engine following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, Reuters reports.

It’s not clear why the SpaceX rocket exploded while sending 5,200 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station, though Elon Musk, founder of the private company SpaceX, and CEO of Tesla Motors, noted on Twitter that the pressure in the liquid oxygen tank was too great. Following closer analysis, more details should soon be available.

“I am confident that this minor setback will in no way impede the future success of SpaceX and its ability to support U.S. national security space missions,” Senate Armed Services Committee chairman McCain said, according to Reuters, though he noted that since national security takes precedence, Congress could look into lifting the restrictions on the RD-180 in the coming years.

“With Russian troops still occupying Ukraine and killing its citizens, I will continue to oppose language currently in the House defense authorization bill, which guarantees that $300 million of taxpayer money will go to Vladimir Putin, his cronies, and the Russian military industrial base,” McCain added.

The House National Defense Authorization Act includes $300 million for 14 RD-180s, and McCain still counts himself in opposition to the move, since it allows more deliveries of the engine than in the Senate version of the defense budget. Since the Air Force relies on the RD-180, the Pentagon, too, has requested that restrictions be eased.

But McCain is interested in U.S. domination of space and thinks that SpaceX could lead the way forward. Last month, the Air Force certified SpaceX to carry out national security missions, which satisfies a request McCain brought up in February at Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s hearing.

At the time, McCain accused the Air Force of reinforcing the United Launch Alliance’s monopoly on the national security launch market, comprised of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. With the monopoly shattered, SpaceX has a crucial opportunity for innovation, so long as restrictions on the RD-180 remain.

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