The USA will invest $220m (£130m) in development of a next-generation liquid-fuel rocket engine to be able to launch military and spy satellites without having to purchase engines from Russia.
The decision, mirroring the strain the crisis in Ukraine has put on Russia-US relations, was announced on Wednesday.
A legislative proposal will be included in the House of Representatives' 2014 annual defence policy bill, directing Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to develop a rocket engine that "enables the effective, efficient and expedient transition from the use of non-allied space launch engines to a domestic alternative."
The draft proposal for the National Defense Authorization Act calls for a "full and open competition" to develop an engine made in the United States that meets the needs of the national security community and is available no later than 2019.
United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, currently uses the RD 180 rocket engine made by Russia's NPO Energomash to launch Atlas V rockets carrying US military and spy satellites.
Besides satellite launches, the US is also dependent on Russian technology when it comes to transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. After the Space Shuttle retirement in 2011, Russia’s Soyuz remained the only vehicle capable of ferrying human crews to the orbital outpost, forcing Nasa to fork out some $70m per seat to bring American astronauts to the ISS.
A new American-made launch vehicle for manned crews is not expected to be ready before 2017, with major testing and first contract signing scheduled for this summer.
According to AFP, following the announcement of the US efforts to decrease its dependency on Russian technology, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was quoted as saying. "If their aim is to deliver a blow to Russia's rocket-building sector, then by default, they would be exposing their astronauts on the ISS." The statement was perceived as an indirect threat.
Previously, US Air Force officials assured lawmakers their long-standing relationship with Russian firms has not been affected by the current crisis in Ukraine.
Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning said last month the United States has enough rocket engines to support satellite launches well into 2016.
Chief Pentagon arms buyer Frank Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee the United States has a license to build the Russian engines itself and could do that if necessary. But he said it would require some technical work first and that the license only goes through about 2022.
"I've never been entirely comfortable with that dependency," Kendall said. "And we have looked at it in the budget process options a couple of times to try to do something about that, but it just hasn't been affordable and we've accepted the risk."
Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh has said it would cost about $1bn and take about five years for Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies, to start co-producing the Russian rocket engine.
Lawmakers also have been concerned about the lack of competition among firms that carry out launches.
The Air Force awarded a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract for 36 launches to United Launch Alliance earlier this year, prompting privately held Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX, to file a lawsuit on April 25.
Elon Musk, the company's chief executive, said the contract blocks companies like SpaceX, whose costs he said are far lower than those of ULA, from competing for national security launches.