Pentagon's Gen. Shelton: End Reliance on Russian Rockets

Image: Pentagon's Gen. Shelton: End Reliance on Russian Rockets

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 09:17 PM

By Jason Devaney

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In the midst of a 21st century space conflict brewing between the United States and Russia, the senior space commander at the Pentagon said he would like the U.S. to develop its own rocket to replace the Russian one the government currently uses on half of its military and intelligence space missions.

Last week, Russia announced it would ban the U.S. from using the International Space Station starting in 2020, and also said it would no longer allow Washington to use Russian-made rockets to fire military satellites into orbit.

"We are very concerned about continuing to develop high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicizes everything," Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.

In response, Gen. William Shelton, the Commander of Air Force Space Command at the Pentagon, said the U.S. needs to be more self-reliant when it comes to space because of the ongoing rift with Russia — which grew more tense when the U.S. government placed sanctions on its former Cold War enemy and blasted its actions in the Ukraine crisis.

"[Our] industrial base has withered a bit," Shelton said at an industry conference, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Shelton also noted that in a future conflict, it's possible "the first shots fired are in cyber and space."

According to the Journal, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin called United Launch Alliance handles the Pentagon's satellite launches. The U.S. uses Russian-made rocket engines for those launches, and the government said it has enough of them for the next two years.

But with the Russians vowing to ban the sale of its engines to the U.S. if they're used for military purposes, and with Shelton, who is due to retire this summer, calling for the American government to stop using them, the Pentagon is looking at domestic options.

The Journal says a U.S.-made rocket would cost more than $1 billion and would take up to eight years to develop and build. The other option would be to construct the Russian rocket in the U.S., but Shelton said that option is not the preferred one.

The other party in the market is SpaceX, a California-based company led by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. That company, which designs and builds rocket engines and space vehicles, also handles launches. Musk has been fighting for a place in the U.S. space market.

Shelton said the Pentagon is currently in the process of certifying SpaceX rockets for government use.

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