An AJ-26 engine, based on an earlier Russian design, prepared for a ground test at a Nasa facility

Boeing calls for domestic US rocket engines after rocket crash

The US space industry has to develop its own rocket engines and stop relying on refurbished Russian technology, Boeing’s CEO said in the wake of the Antares crash.

"It's a wake-up call that we need to move forward, we need to move smartly, we need to move together to protect this industry," said Chris Chadwick, chief executive of Boeing Defense, Space and Security.

"We need to move beyond today's technology ... and look for that next generation of engine that's even more reliable, even more capable."

The Antares rocket, built and designed by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences corporation, exploded on Wednesday only a few seconds after lift-off destroying a space capsule packed with supplies bound for the International Space Station.

Unlike rival SpaceX, Orbital Sciences has not developed its own rocket engines, using the AJ-26 engine based on an older Russian design instead. The engine, built in the US by Aerojet Rocketdyne, was associated with an explosion during a ground test at Nasa’s Stennis Space Center earlier this year. Following the Antares take-off disaster, Orbital said a preliminary investigation showed the failure initiated in the first stage of the rocket, which is powered by the AJ-26 engine, but didn’t provide any further details.

Boeing itself is a member of the United Launch Alliance which is launching satellites for both the US Department of Defense and Nasa. The company is purchasing the RD-180 engines from Russia for its Atlas V rockets. This practice has recently been the subject of an intense political debate with many experts underlining the importance of the USA becoming less reliant on Russian technology.

Chadwick said he saw great promise in United Launch Alliance's decision to partner with Blue Origin, a company founded by entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, and leverage the smaller company's three years of work and investment in a new rocket engine.

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