The explosion of the Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station late Tuesday night has shed light on America’s reliance on foreign hardware, some of which dates back to the Soviet era.
The Antares, exploded six seconds after liftoff from NASA’s Wallops Island Facility in Eastern Virginia, built by Orbital Sciences was the third rocket in a series of eight as part of a $1.9 billion contract with NASA.
It is still too early to comment on what was the reason behind the blast but Orbital Sciences executive vice president Frank Culbertson was asked in a press conference about the use of refurbished Russian engine hardware.
Orbital employs AJ26 engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne, which are derived from the Russian NK-33 engine and were initially developed to take the N-1 rocket to the moon in the early 70s.
“Basically, this was an engine that was designed to carry cosmonauts to the moon – a number of them were bought by Aerojet several years ago to be refurbished and ‘Americanized’ and provided to American industry,” explained Culbertson. “It’s an extensively tested engine – it’s very robust and rugged.”
Executive director of Explore Mars, Chris Carberry was of the view that U.S. should not rely too much on overseas technology in order to support its space program. He also expressed that though the U.S. has been taking steps to become less reliant on Russian engines but this is only due to the current ongoing tensions between the two governments.
In addition to this, SpaceX, a rival of Orbital Sciences has been considerably boasting about the fact that it builds its own rocket engines from scratch.
Adding insult to injury, Russia successfully launched its own unmanned supply ship to the International Space Station early on Wednesday.
Some experts believe that these things would continue to occur more frequently because both the Bush and Obama administration have not provided adequate funding for high quality U.S. space effort.