The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly on June 15 to allow the U.S. space agency NASA to continue using Russian-made rocket engines in an amendment to legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia.
The United States currently uses Russian RD-180 engines to launch civilian and military satellites, although agencies are working to develop alternatives to the Russian engines as required by sanctions legislation passed in 2014.
Republican Senator Cory Gardner, the author of the amendment allowing NASA to keep using Russian engines, said that under the tough new sanctions the bill envisions placing on Russia over its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, arming of Syria, and other matters, the U.S. space program could have been seriously impaired.
"The underlying language...would have unintentionally sanctioned our...aerospace industry," he said. "NASA would have potentially had to close up to seven space missions" which have already cost billions of dollars, he said.
The exception for NASA was strongly opposed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, who called it a gift to the Russian defense industry and "cronies" of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was approved by 94-6.
Based on reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and Space Policy Online