On Wednesday morning, a rocket blasted off from Blue Origin’s West Texas facility in West Texas, carrying eight NASA experiments into space with it.
Climbing past an altitude of 350,000 feet (over 100 kilometers), the New Shepard rocket launched its capsule, from which the company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos plans to conduct space tourism. Blue Origin tweeted that it plans to begin flying humans to space next year.
Those watching Wednesday’s launch probably assume that the parts for American rockets are made in the United States. While that may be true for space-travel companies like Space X, Blue Origin and Virgin, it isn’t for rockets sent skyward for national security missions, through something called the United Launch Alliance. These rockets are powered by Russian engines. Yes, you read that right. Our Cold War enemy for 30-odd years, which ironically started the space race with the 1957 launch of Sputnik, all use RD-180 engines made by NPO Energomash, a Russian state-owned company.
Meanwhile, magnets made from Chinese rare earths are used in the Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s answer to a one-size-fits-all warplane.
If Cold War Presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan knew that the nation’s national defense rested on technologies coming from its former and current adversaries, they would surely be turning in their graves.
But it is apparently so. The United Launch Alliance is a joint venture between Boeing, Lockheed Martin, the US Air Force, NASA and the National Reconnaisance Office (NRO). Defense One reports that US reliance on Russian rocket technology will remain until at least 2020, due to a contract with ULA.
The ULA is a symbol of US dependence on Russian suppliers for a critical element of national security – the ability to launch rockets. As Defense One argues, if Russia decided to withhold delivery of the RD-180, the Air Force, NASA and the NRO would be unable to deliver critical launch operations, leaving America vulnerable to Russia and other adversaries. An increasingly aggressive Russia and China makes this vulnerability all the more disturbing.
Unfortunately, the United States Military and dozens of high-tech North American companies are as dependent on China for their rare earth elements as the United Launch Alliance is on Russian-made rockets. How did this happen? In this article we create a timeline and offer a patch to this ever-widening hole in national defense capabilities.
This Editorial was produced in collaboration with Richard (Rick) Mills & www.aheadoftheheard.com
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