Discussion on decommissioned American ICBMs started

Discussion on new idea for retired ICBMs will not be finished in first half of 2016.

After Gen. John Hyten announcement given on 32nd Space Symposium (11-14 April 2016) about his idea of utilizing engines from retired ICBMs for commercial purposes like small launch vehicles, it was clear that it is not easy case and way to American Rokot will be long. American strict regulations which are forbidding using engines from surplus ICBM missiles for any other purpose than military could be changed only by Congress, which probably will get acquainted with first different experts and organizations for their recommendation. It is clear that majority of organizations are civilian and their point of view deeply varies from one represented by General Hyten.

First House Science Committee’s space subcommittee hearing on April 19, 2016, was on potential changes in law and focused on discussing opportunities which will open after making engines from decommissioned ICBM commercially available. Orbital ATK as most experienced company in using ICBM engines in their Minotaur rocket was strongly lobbing for law change. Company claimed that such solution will help American space industry in competition with Russia and China on market of small and medium launch vehicles. It is known fact that Russia is successfully used modified ICBM in Dnepr and Rokot launch vehicles; China announced in 2015 their new small and medium rockets based on military rocket missiles (Long March 6 and Long March 11, while Long March 1 seems to be modification of DF-31 ICBM) and these rockets surely will be offered on commercial market. Minotaur in its all versions is only contracted for Department of Defense launches, but after law change Orbital ATK would easily become a leader among other American companies. Competitors of Orbital ATK are spending great sums of money annually for developing own engines after change in law, would lose that money spent for research and development. It was clearly stated by Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF, which is not representing Orbital ATK) quoted by Spacenews.com:

“Flooding the market with cheap government motors would certainly tilt the playing field for the commercial industry,”

After hearing there was no clear position among members of Committee. It not refers to FAA-yesterday U.S. Federal Aviation Administration was obligated by Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC-established in 1984 advisory institution for FAA in commercial space transportation industry) to recommend in any discussion with Congress or other agencies keeping ban for using surplus engines for commercial purposes. It is sign that line between military and civilian space programs will be kept and FAA considers present state as good solution. According to Spacenews.com during FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation Spring Meeting in Washington, DC on 27-28 April 2016, present representatives of space industry strongly stressed that law change is basically unfair competition. In fact, lack of surplus engines did not effect on American space industry but rather forced seeking of alternative solutions for small satellites like number of spaceplanes which are developed (for example Northrop XS-1, Virgin LauncherOne or Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser) by big companies and did not affect to general technical progress. Using decommissioned engines by Orbital ATK could literally kill small space industry which is basically focusing on small and medium launch vehicles where Orbital ATK Minotaur after changing policy easily becomes leader. It refers mainly to rockets able to lift 200 kg -300 kg payloads which are not widely offered by American space industry, stated Richard DalBello, vice president of business development and government affairs at Virgin Galactic which is one of the members of CSF

In spite of negative recommendation by FAA there is chance (in previous years similar idea of using decommissioned ICBM parts was given to Congress two times) that law will be changed. According to Spacenews, on April 27, 2016 House Armed Services Committee decided to submit for consideration for Defense Department and the Government Accountability Office idea of General Hyten. Report from analysis will be available for Congress on 1st September 2016 and Government Accountability Office. In this case economy could become significant factor. Matter of supporting space industry by the Government is complicated but it is undisputable that monopoly of any company is not good solution what clearly showed case of ULA and RD-180 engines. Still change in policy regarding decommissioned ICBMs seems not much probable.


House committee weighs small launch vehicle policy issues

FAA advisory committee recommends no changes to ICBM motor policy