The US Air Force has described what steps it plans to take to cut the nation's reliance on Russian rocket engines for launching military and intelligence satellites.
The air force said it will continue its support for domestic aerospace firms including SpaceX, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, hoping to have two or more launch systems ready to compete for government launch contracts as early 2020.
Air Force acquisition chief William LaPlante introduced the four-step plan, which needs to get approval from the Pentagon in order to leverage both government and private investment into the development of new rocket engines.
First, the Air Force would use funding from fiscal years 2014 and 2015 to complete development already under way by Nasa and the Air Force Research Laboratory. These projects aim at improving combustion stability in a high-performance engine and their outcomes will be made available to the industry.
As the second step, the US Air Force will use the remainder of the $220m funding from the fiscal 2015 budget to help companies developed their own propulsion systems. The resulting technology should be subsequently made available to any launch provider.
Thirdly, the US Air Force would invest into domestic launch systems, beginning with fiscal 2016 funds.
Between 2020 and 2024 a full and open competition for national security launches will commence, initially using existing systems but transitioning to the newly developed systems once they have been certified.
In addition to SpaceX, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, GenCorp’s Aerojet Rocketdyne unit and Orbital ATK are both expected to participate in the development.
LaPlante said Pentagon is expected to approve the investment in the coming weeks.