U.S. space program may be at risk due to faulty Russian rocket engines

U.S. space agency NASA and the U.S. military may be at risk because of a major Russian scandal in which rocket engines were built out of cheap and potentially defective metal.

NASA uses Russia’s Proton-M rockets to launch cargo and well as crews to the International Space Station (ISS). But, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin recently revealed that Proton-M rockets would be out of service for the next 3½ months because of engine issues.

Russians authorities also revealed that some employees at the rocket engine factory in Voronezh were involved in faking engine documentation. Last week, the head of the factory resigned after revelation that the crash of a Progress cargo ship in December was due to an engine malfunction.

Russian space analyst Anatoly Zak said, “The failure of the engine was reportedly traced to illegal replacement of precious heat-resistant alloys within the engine’s components with less expensive but failure-prone materials … low-quality material in the turbo-pump shaft of the engine had led to the accident.”

The Progress MS-04 crash in December last year destroyed nearly 2.6 tones of food, fuel, and other supplies bound for the ISS.

American experts have warned that while the flaws have thus far been confined to Russia’s Voronezh Manufacturing Plant, but the issue could be larger. The U.S. uses RD-180 rocket engines from another Russian company for its military’s space program.