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9 Aug, 2018 16:14

Houston, we have a problem: Russia threatens to stop supplying engines crucial for US space program

Houston, we have a problem: Russia threatens to stop supplying engines crucial for US space program

Moscow will retaliate over the latest sanctions proposed by Washington and one such response may be cutting off sales of rocket engines crucial for the US space program, said senior Russian lawmaker Sergey Ryabukhin.

Russia supplies RD-180 rocket engines used by NASA and the Pentagon since the US does not have a reliable domestic alternative.

“We have something to retaliate with, if the President decides to do so and there is a political will. The counter measures may target such sensible areas as unique projects,” the senator said.

The comments come shortly after news that the White House was planning to introduce new punitive measures against Russia over the country’s alleged involvement in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK. Russia has denied the accusation and has called for a joint investigation.

New sanctions propose banning exports of sensitive national security goods to Russia, a ban on flights by Russia's Aeroflot airlines to the US, and almost a complete suspension of US exports to Russia. According to the US State Department, Russia may avoid the sanctions by providing guarantees of non-use of chemical weapons in the future.

According to Ryabukhin, the tit-for-tat measures might target exports of the RD-180 rocket engine, manufactured by Russian state-controlled engineering company Energomash, as the engines are classified as a product of dual-use that could be used for placing both civilian and military satellites into orbit.

In 1997, Moscow and Washington sealed a deal on the supply of 101 units of RD-180 engines to the US. Two years ago, the US Congress banned using the Russian-produced engines after 2019. However, the ban was cancelled after lawmakers reportedly realized that the US space industry couldn’t find a replacement.

Shortly after that, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint company owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, ordered 20 extra engines from Energomash. The engines are used to power Atlas V rockets. Earlier, reports emerged that ULA is likely to keep using Russian engines till 2028.

Apart from RD-180 engines, the US buys RD-181s from the Russian makers. The RD-181 engine is used to power the Antares rockets that launch Cygnus cargo tugs to the International Space Station for NASA.

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