Moscow Delivers Double Whammy to US Space Efforts – Bans Rocket Engines for Military Use, Won’t Prolong ISS Work

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket – powered by Russian made RD-180 engines – and Super Secret NROL-67 intelligence gathering payload poised for launch at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, in March 2014.
Credit: Ken Kremer –
Story updated[/caption]

Moscow delivered a double whammy of bad news to a broad range of US space efforts today by banning the use of Russian made rocket engines for US military national security launches and by declining to prolong cooperation on the International Space Station (ISS) – says Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who is in charge of space and defense industries.

Rogozin was quoted in a story prominently featured today, May 13, on the English language website of Russia Today, a Russian TV news and cultural network.

“Moscow is banning Washington from using Russian-made rocket engines, which the US has used to deliver its military satellites into orbit,” said Rogozin according to the Russia Today report.

Virtually every aspect of the manned and unmanned US space program – including NASA, other government agencies, private aerospace company’s and crucial US national security payloads – are highly dependent on Russian & Ukrainian rocketry and are clearly at risk amidst the current Ukrainian crisis as tensions continue to escalate with deadly new clashes reported today in Ukraine – with global repercussions.

The engines at issue are the Russian made RD-180 engines – which power the first stage of the venerable Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) and are used to launch a wide array of US government satellites including top secret US military spy satellites for the US National Reconnaissance Office, like NROL-67, as well as science satellites for NASA like the Curiosity Mars rover and MAVEN Mars orbiter.

The dual nozzle RD-180 engines are manufactured in Russia by NPO Energomash. Rogozin’s statement effectively blocks their export to the US.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. Credit: RIA Novosti
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. Credit: RIA Novosti

“We proceed from the fact that without guarantees that our engines are used for non-military spacecraft launches only, we won’t be able to supply them to the US,” Rogozin said.

So although the launch of NASA science missions might preliminarily appear to be exempt, they could still be at serious risk based on a qualifier from Rogozin, pertaining to RD-180 engines already delivered.

“If such guarantees aren’t provided the Russian side will also be unable to perform routine maintenance for the engines, which have been previously delivered to the US, he added.

A ULA spokesperson told me that the company has a two year supply of RD-180 engines already stockpiled in the US.

Rogozin’s statements today are clearly in retaliation to stiffened economic sanctions imposed by the US and Western nations in response to Russia’s actions in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea; as I reported earlier here, here and here.

Therefore, US National Security spy satellite and NASA science launches are left lingering with uncertainty and potential disarray.

Rogozin is specifically named on the US economic sanctions target list.

He was also named by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in his firms attempt to block the importation of the RD-180 engines by ULA for the Atlas V as a violation of US sanctions.

Federal Judge Susan Braden initially imposed a temporary injunction blocking the RD-180 imports on April 30. She rescinded that order last Thursday, May 8, after receiving written communications clarifications from the US Justice and Commerce departments that the engine import did not violate the US government imposed sanctions.

Rogozin went on to say that “Moscow also isn’t planning to agree to the US offer of prolonging operation of the International Space Station (ISS) [to 2024].

“We currently project that we’ll require the ISS until 2020,” he said. “We need to understand how much profit we’re making by using the station, calculate all the expenses and depending on the results decide what to do next.”

“A completely new concept for further space exploration is currently being developed by the relevant Russian agencies”.

NASA announced early this year the agency’s intention to extend ISS operations to at least 2024, and is seeking agreement from all the ISS partners including Russia.

Since the shutdown of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 before a replacement crew vehicle was available, American astronauts are now 100% dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule for rides to the ISS and back.

Congress has also repeatedly slashed NASA’s commercial crew program budget, forcing at least an 18 month delay in its start up and thus continued reliance on the Soyuz for years to come at over $70 million per seat.

NASA thus has NO immediate alternatives to Russia’s Soyuz – period.

The Atlas V is also planned as the launcher for two of the three companies vying for the next round of commercial crew contracts aimed at launching US astronauts to the ISS. The commercial crew contracts will be awarded by NASA later this year.

In a previous statement regarding the US sanctions against Russia, Rogozin said that sanctions could “boomerang” against the US space program and that perhaps NASA should “deliver their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

Curiosity rover launches to Mars atop Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA’s Curiosity rover launches to Mars atop Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Atlas V 1st stage is powered by Russian made RD-180 engines.
Credit: Ken Kremer –

Watch for Ken’s articles as the Ukraine crisis escalates with uncertain and potentially dire consequences for US National Security and NASA.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, Orion, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer


Ken’s upcoming presentation: Mercy College, NY, May 19: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars” and “NASA’s Future Crewed Spaceships.”

The International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit.  Credit: NASA
The International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit.
The sole way for every American and station partner astronaut to fly to space and the ISS is aboard the Russian Soyuz manned capsule since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in 2011. There are currently NO alternatives to Russia’s Soyuz. Credit: NASA

28 Replies to “Moscow Delivers Double Whammy to US Space Efforts – Bans Rocket Engines for Military Use, Won’t Prolong ISS Work”

  1. Politicians childlish play:
    US: – We ban military use of the Atlas V!
    Russia: – No, it is WE who ban military use of the Atlas V!

    Anyway, it would be a very good thing if the Atlas V was used only for scientific and commercial purposes! The US has already hurt themselves too much with their extreme militarization.

    As for the ISS, 2020 is a generous date. By then the Soyuz will have competition. Technically, the Russians could disconnect their segment, which was the core and starting point of the ISS, and operate it independently while the rest crashes helplessly.

    1. Is that actually true? Was the station designed as a siamese twin? Aren’t there shared cooling and other systems, and wouldn’t such a thing change centroids and oh dear just make a huge mess?

      1. *Basically* the Russian modules Zarya and Zvedza modules were the first independent core of the ISS (intended to be the core of MIR-2 which never happened) with their own life support, photo voltaics and communication systems. But now decades later there’s likely a mess of many little things of interdependances to deal with.

        The centroid problem should be a subset of what that core of the ISS was designed to deal with, I’d guess.

        But noone with political power has suggested anything like crashing the ISS! The 2020 deadline opens up for a solution to conveniently run the ISS without Russian participation. The Russians politely leave the table.

  2. Catastrophy. Instead fly together to the last frontier. Each dwarf will work on his own insignificant garden.

  3. I’m as divided on this as the ISS may become. Russia is explicitly looking for using their ISS parts for use in a station that assembles crafts and function as a waystation for interplanetary voyages. With their gas economy raising, they may afford such voyages. So if it happens, it isn’t a total waste.

    And maybe NASA, ESA, JAXA and CSA would have time to prepare an attitude control module with docking capabilities (which I believe is what is lacking – ATV can then raise altitude, as can eventual Progress service), so the ISS survives too. Besides, the Chinese space station will go up around 2020. [ ]

    But cooperation here should give more bang for the bucks. And the politics game has a few years yet before this is decided for good.

    “She rescinded that order last Thursday after receiving written communications clarification from the US Justice and Commerce department that the engine import did not violate the US government imposed sanctions.”

    More precisely, that to the best of their knowledge, aka wild guessing, it doesn’t. They didn’t bother to find out.

  4. Interesting times.

    No RD-180, no Atlas V.

    No Atlas V, no CST-100 launches, and no Dreamchaser launches.

    Granted, they could move all the military launches to Delta IV, and have enough engines for the near future. They could even human-rate the Delta IV – but still, the US launch capabilities seem a bit inadequate at the moment.

    Sure, Congress will now dump excessive amounts of money on ULA and in less than a decade they’ll have an alternative launch system that might not be decades old. But they’ll have to dump a similar amounts of money on SpaceX or face charges of building a monopoly, hindering free-trade and so on … The big winner will be SpaceX – which I think will be a good thing for space exploration.

    And I think it is only consequential that Moscow reacts to what has been started in Washington. I hadn’t expected that, but it is not really surprising. And a good and critical look in Moscow at what is a sensible solution to operating a space station in LEO is most welcome – whatever they come up with will be more economic and sensible than the billions spend on ISS.

  5. Russia is aiming at the future space market which is in Asia. That matches Russias Angara rocket program. In the 2020s the ISS will be replaced (or if ISS survives, get company) by an Asian space station. If the US and maybe also the EU don’t want to participate, that fine for them.

    1. Seriously? Who in Asia puts up a space station? Viet Nam? JAXA’s rockets are small and not yet reliable. China? Maybe, but again, small rockets.

      That’s the calculation being made in congress, I suspect; those critters see the US as king of the hill. But not for long.

      1. I don’t see any use for a large space station in LEO, other than one which is similar to an actually planned Earth-Mars spaceship. For testing stuff like centrifugal gravity, recycling water and simulating communication time delays. The ISS space station is a mistake which no one will ever repeat.

        China and India are in a space race which Russia benefits by joining. They have some need to use single module short lived space stations to try out their microgravity crewed trips to the Moon or even some asteroid.

        And Asia has an insatiable demand for commercial satellite launches. The so called cis-Lunar space will be explored by others than the US-gov (NASA) which has done nothing of it during the last 40 years.

  6. What’s happening to our space program is exactly the same thing that is happening to our infrastructure. It’s crumbling. At some point and with the infrastructure, at least, the 1% will see that commerce is shrinking because goods can’t travel.

    Too bleak? Maybe. But stay with me:

    I thought the loss of the I35 bridge would wake up some pointy heads in congress, but no. And in a time of nearly zero interest rates now is the time to float bonds.

    As to space, Congress (and in particular one of the two colors) cares not a whit; SLS is a jobs program, pure and simple. Nothing will happen in our beloved space program until it comes in to the political playing field; that’s the only set of uprights that congress understands.

    What a mess. What a stupid human mess.

    1. Well it’s not happening here in Texas. May be the locals should depend on local government more. Even the unemployment is dropping. Housing is in a boom here. We do need more rain though the fishermen are having to sit closer together.

    2. I agree with your assessment. The lack of political consensus to rebuild infrastructure is a critical error. I can’t see any downside to investing in infrastructure & the jobs this creates will help the economy.

  7. The debacle began long ago and shows no sign of changing.
    When a political party roots itself in power by offering handouts in exchange for votes from the poor, its guaranteed to generate more poor.

    Infrastructure and prestige programs attract the support from the middle class, but that voting bloc is all but extinct now.
    By making an opposing country integral to our ability to access space, we were only rolling the dice on when they’d decide to embarrass us.

    All in all they’ve let us down easy. It could be alot worse.

  8. I have a friend in Russia who is a theoretical physicist, and we both agree on this situation . . .
    First, the USA has been overstepping its bounds for a very long time. . . . the USA makes it a practice of interfering in the affairs of many other nations, frequently ignoring international laws, and with complete disregard for the sovereignty of other nations and peoples. The word “diplomacy” no longer exists in their vocabulary, because, they firmly believe that the only way is force and threats. If that way of thinking were true though, we would still be governed by Great Britain!
    When someone said “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”, they were talking about situations like what exists in the minds of our Washington leaders. They are scared, and they act based on fear rather than intellect. It is illogical to try to use force against other nations and peoples as much as the USA has been doing, because force (as opposed to diplomacy and persuasion) creates counter-force, and that is exactly what we are seeing today, in both Russia, China and elsewhere.
    For a long time now, I have seen the USA doing things as previously mentioned, and each time, I would say to myself “This sets a very bad precedent.” What I mean is that when you see the USA ignoring international laws and the UN, it is only an invitation for other countries to do the exact same thing, and that puts us . . . where? Exactly where we were before the UN was created . . . . which is bad, because the UN was created, at least in part, with the idea of preventing world-wide conflagrations from breaking out.
    A prime example is the USA’s behavior with regard to Libya, but that is not an isolated example, there are plenty of others. If the USA can do things like this with impunity, what is to stop Russia or China from doing the same? Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. This is a recipe for disaster . . . . on a large scale.
    My friend from Russia, on Facebook, put up a picture of an Eagle, and an upside-down flag, with the following written on it, (I am translating it from the Russian ):

    “America eliminated the Indians, shackled slaves, dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese, burned the Vietnamese with napalm, bombed the serbs with uranium warheads . . . . And suddenly falls in love with Ukrainians.”, and then at the bottom of it, it said “One cannot command the hearts of others.”.

    The bottom line is exactly the point . . . “One cannot command the hearts of others.”. I am not going to comment on the veracity of some of what was stated on the picture, because that is not the point. The point is that our nations leaders are using “point-of-the-sword diplomacy” far to often, and it is creating a very dangerous world indeed. They are their own worst enemies. It is a very bad long-term strategy, because it will lead to large-scale world conflict.

    Will NASA get more funding? Highly likely. . . but will it matter?

    1. What has Russia been doing? Take a look right now. AIASIGPAC wouldn’t it be better to promote good will, instead of trying to be the aggressor. I know national pride is what you believe in. But the blame is ill placed. The world is not afraid of what the US is doing. The world is afraid of being consumed by Russia. At the rate things are going, what country will Russia invade next. Is Russia trying to become the USSR? In my opinion the US should not interfere. We have our on country to maintain. But it is hard to sit idle and listen to someone broadcasting continuous propaganda about the United States. I too have national pride. I have read your posts over and over and it’s alway the same thing. You good US bad.
      Get a life. Or is it your job to spread ill will? Propaganda. Wouldn’t it be better to stick to Space and Science.

  9. The administration’s “smart diplomacy” again bites them in the ass. Just weeks ago the admin had NASA et. al. put restrictions on scientific cooperation with Russia. This action was both un-necessary and ineffective. Just POed the Russians. Did the Ivy League navel gazers in the State Department not think one or two moves ahead that Russia might retaliate and cut off engine access for the military critical Atlas V? No, they did not.

    Thankfully the US once again may be saved by entrepreneurial spirit. SpaceX is well along in its commercial crew activity. I give credit to this same administration for its continued support of the last administration’s commercial space efforts.

    1. I am in State. First off, no agency can act by itself. For State to impose sanctions, it had to be approved by the interagency and the NSC, including NASA. Second, the Ivy League navel gazers in State are more likely to try diplomacy, than wield a stick. The order for State to impose sanctions likely came from the WH or NSC.

      Russia was already under some statutory sanctions because of its support to Iran. Those sanctions always had to be waived because we needed Russia for the space program. Congress shares much if not most of the blame for where we are now.

  10. When you’re the Portugal of the Space Age, these things happen.

    Maybe the shuttle shouldn’t’ve been retired without a US backup, ya think?

    1. I’m not an American but I cannot believe how your congressmen and administration are simply dumb as fu**.
      The whole point of SLS seems to be job-making, that’s even advertised. More jobs, more jobs! Doesn’t matter how good the rocket is or how cheap it is, as long as the taxpayers pay for more jobs.
      And as for Atlas-V, a rocket which is outsourced all over the world and completely reliant on the Russians, I say bravo, ULA. Boeing and Lockheed, two of the industry’s finest players, didn’t see it necessary to at least try to reverse engineer, if not supplement with in-house engine, the RD-180.
      Just fascinating. It seems even those congressmen who do support bigger space budgets, are just on ULA’s payroll.
      I think in 10 years time it will be perfectly clear that without SpaceX, the US really would become the Portugal of the space age.

  11. The crazy thing is that US tax payers money was used to give jobs to Russian space engineers that are building missiles. And at the same time put their own US space engineers out of jobs.

    1. I agree. But I see a lot of new industry starting up in the US. Out of the start ups several are aiming at space transportation. If the government can’t do it, the will of the people can. AWASIGPAC and lets occupy Mars.

  12. “A completely new concept for further space exploration is currently being developed by the relevant Russian agencies”.

    Yeah, right. Does anyone not see through Russia’s pathetic chest-puffing?

  13. It seem to me that some post on this site to use it as a whipping post for the United States of America. Armed with strong propaganda against the US. I don’t see anyone posting the sins of Russia or any other country. I understand that we are not perfect. But I believe that a lot of what we do is guided by the whims of those outside the US. That means that we are trying to do right by listening to those that are suppose to be our friends. When we get it right, everyone just loves us. But in times of folly, they turn to ridicule the US. That’s what we get for trying to do the right thing for your benefit. It’s easy to point a finger and say you should have done it this way. That is after the fact. It seems that the World opinion is that the US should fail. I refuse to believe this myself and believe that this is just more propaganda leveled at the United States of America. If you are not here just for the propaganda against the US. Then you must be a true friend. Space and Science is what we should be sharing not country bashing. If you look at the big picture this is only one small blue dot in the cosmos.

  14. This whole situation is more serious than it looks. The US and the EU are meddling in an area which Russia regarded as it’s sphere of influence, the Russians are annoyed and are trying to prevent further US/EU inroads onto a bordering country. (Imagine how the US would react if Russia started meddling in Mexico by encouraging them to go communist We’d be at DEFCON 4.9 already!) The US, which always believes it’s the good guy, reacted by imposing sanctions. Russian retaliation, which is natural and should have been expected, has backfired on the US and furthermore threatens the whole sphere of international scientific cooperation in space that has been painstakingly built up over the last 40 years. This scientific cooperation may be the one thing that allows us to get off the planet and out towards the stars.
    The question is; did the politicians actually consider retaliation in the form we have seen and actually dents US pride where it is thinnest as a possible outcome when they did all their equations of action? Or was it overlooked? Or is the loss of scientific cooperation a price worth paying for Ukranians to look to the west rather than the east?
    The more immediate danger is that we sleepwalk into another world war just like we did 100 years ago.
    The politicians should get a handle on this and de-escalate now.

  15. Two Words! … SpaceX!

    ok its one word…

    ok its not a word..

    But you get my drift 😉

  16. The Russians doth protest too loudly.
    They HAVE been meddling in our back yard for decades, and pointing missiels at us, and arming/funding our opponents, and besmirching our name across the globe, and all this has hardly become an issue worth distancing our space programs over.
    What changed? The shoe being on anothe foot?
    What changed is we trusted them and now they have something else to smack us in the face with.
    One wonders why anyone didn’t expect this to happen when we stopped funding our space program and started to fund theirs.

    At least We don’t have to guess what will happen next if this administration doesn’t get serious on space issues. They will have come in under a flourishing space scene only to leave us with nothing functional.

Comments are closed.