LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said Oct. 17 he continued to support efforts in Congress to fund development of a replacement for the RD-180 rocket engine despite a joint venture by Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance to develop such an engine on their own.

“I’m pleased that, in Congress, we’ve taken the steps to provide the initial funding needed in 2015 to begin risk reduction and develop that next-generation rocket engine, and I will continue to support those efforts,” said Heinrich, speaking at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) here.

Heinrich said he was not swayed by criticism of a planned RD-180 replacement, such as estimates of as many as seven years to develop a replacement. “I think these arguments only serve to prolong the inaction and delay a course of action that will eventually make us much more self-reliant,” he said.

Heinrich mentioned in his remarks the venture announced Sept. 17 by Blue Origin and ULA to develop the BE-4 engine, which ULA will use on a future launch vehicle, but did not suggest that the effort, which the companies are funding on their own, eliminated the need for the RD-180 replacement.

“We’re seeing a number of capable companies stepping up to these challenges, which is frankly great for our national security and great for our tax dollars,” he said of the BE-4 project.

In his speech, Heinrich also reiterated his support for the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program, which he has championed in Congress in recent years. ORS, he said, “can do things faster and more effectively, and do the job at a much lower cost with 70 percent of the capability” of more conventional systems. The ORS Office is based at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Heinrich said he continued to support legislation he introduced earlier this year that would allow a commercial suborbital vehicle operator to hold both an experimental permit and commercial launch license for the same vehicle. Under current law, the experimental permit expires when the launch license is issued, which has affected the testing program for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane.

Heinrich’s bill, S. 2140, was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in April but has yet to be taken up by the full Senate or incorporated into a broader update of the Commercial Space Launch Act.

Twitter: @jeff_foust


Jeff Foust has more than a decade of experience writing about space policy, entrepreneurial ventures and regulatory affairs. In 2001, he established to aggregate and summarize the day's space-related news stories. In 2003, he started The...