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Russian rocket engine export ban could halt US space program

RT | August 27, 2013

Russia’s Security Council is reportedly considering a ban on supplying the US with powerful RD-180 rocket engines for military communications satellites as Russia focuses on building its own new space launch center, Vostochny, in the Far East.

A ban on the rockets supply to the US heavy booster, Atlas V, which delivers weighty military communications satellites and deep space exploration vehicles into orbit, could put a stop to NASA’s space programs – not just military satellites.

An unnamed representative of Russia’s Federal Space Agency told the Izvestia newspaper that the Security Council is reconsidering the role of Russia’s space industry in the American space exploration program, particularly the 2012 contract on delivering to the US heavy-duty RD-180 rocket engines.

Previously, Moscow has not objected to the fact that America’s Atlas V boosters rigged with Russian rocket engines deliver advanced space armament systems into orbit. If a ban is put in place, however, engine delivery to the US would probably stop altogether, starting from 2015.
Rocket engines at Energomash Research and Production Association

RD-180 rocket engine used in the first stages of American rockets Atlas-3 and Atlas-5. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatakov)

Over the last decade, most of NASA’s Atlas V heavy rocket launches, performed by the United Launch Alliance (a Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture), were carried out using Russian RD-180 dual-nozzle rocket engines, a legacy of the Soviet Buran space shuttle program and its unparalleled rocket booster Energia, which could put 100 tons of spacecraft or satellites into orbit.

Military payloads

It is widely believed that many Atlas V launches have a military payload. Such Lockheed Martin-designed military spacecraft include the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) series of communications satellites launched for Air Force Space Command, the mysterious super-secret Palladium at Night communication platform designed for the US Navy’s Ultra-High Frequency (UFO) Follow-On program and most certainly all three launches of Boeing’s X-37 unmanned demonstrator spacecraft. These are only a part of the military space missions undertaken by Atlas V rockets, boosted by RD-180 engines

A ban could also affect the US’s non-military space exploration launches, which are also highly dependent on the Atlas V rocket and RD-180 engines. The most famous and challenging among them are NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft mission, now traveling to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt (launched in 2006), and the Curiosity Mars rover (launched in 2011) currently operating on the Red Planet

A number of experts told Izvestia that termination of the rocket engine contract would not be a good idea commercially for NPO Energomash, which produces the rockets, because at the moment it makes RD-180 engines exclusively for the US space industry. The rockets typically take Energomash 16 months to produce.

If production of the RD-180 engine is stopped, the enterprise would have to find other contracts to keep the production line and experienced staff busy.

“In my opinion, stopping the export of rocket engines to the US is stupid, as we would suffer financial and reputational losses,” Ivan Moiseyev, scientific head of the Space Policy Institute, told Izvestia. “The US would not suffer much and would definitely continue with military space launches, while Russia would have to stop production of the RD-180, because no one else needs the RD-180 engine.”

However, many space experts believe that the US would find it difficult to quickly replace the Russian rockets. Also, Energomash could find other orders soon. Russia plans to start space launches from its new, multibillion-dollar Vostochny cosmodrome in the Far East in 2015. Vostochny will host a heavy rocket class launch pad, which means the producer of the world’s most powerful rocket engines will be kept busy for many years to come.

The RD-180 is equivalent to half of the Soviet-era Energia booster, the most powerful liquid rocket engine ever made by man. With 20 million horsepower output, the Soviet-era RD-170 was about 5 percent more powerful, yet 1.5 times smaller, than American’s F-1 first stage rocket engine made for the Saturn V booster of the Apollo lunar program.

Reportedly, when the Energia booster with the Buran space shuttle was launched in November 1988, the massive concrete bays paving the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan were flying around like dry leaves, due to the immense power coming from the four RD-170 engines, which blasted the 2,400-ton rocket booster into space.

In the post-Soviet era, Russian-US rocket engine cooperation started back in 1996, when America’s General Dynamics Company bought exclusive rights for use of RD-180 in the US, later selling it to Lockheed Martin for its Atlas rocket program. NPO Energomash, the producer of unique engines based in Moscow’s suburb Khimki, signed a contract for production of 50 RD-180 engines and an option for the production of another 51 units.

A specially created joint venture, RD-AMROSS, between NPO Energomash and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, has already delivered 63 engines to the US worth $11-15 million apiece, reportedly 40 of them have already been used. In December 2012, a new contract was signed to deliver another 31 engines. But this contract is now being reconsidered by Russia’s Security Council, according to Izvestia.

Rocket engines: space at stake

The RD-AMROSS joint venture has always been controversial for Russia’s military.

In 2011 Russia’s Audit Chamber announced that the RD-180 rocket engines delivered to the US according to the 1996 contract were sold for only a half of their real production value. The total loss in 2008-09 reached 880 million rubles (about $30 million) or 68 percent of all financial losses of NPO Energomash at the time, the Audit Chamber said.

In an interview, the general director of RKK Energia Corporation, Vitaly Lopota, estimated that at the time of the RD-180 first launch in the late 1980s, USSR was “at least” 50 years ahead of America’s liquid fuel rocket engine technology.

In the 1990s Russia agreed not only to sell unique engines to the US, but also provided the Americans with full documentation on the engine’s design specifications. But the US space industry opted to buy ready made engines instead of trying to make them on their own, because of the technological and material engineering gap between the two countries’ space industries.

And today the situation appears to be pretty much the same.

In December 2012, the head of Roskosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, Vladimir Popovkin, commented to Izvestia on the engines: “Americans are buying RD-180 engines and are negotiating to buy promising new RD-193 engines, because they’ve learned that we’re making a quality product, the best liquid-fueled rocket engines in the world. For them it’s easier to buy than to make up with us, [while] for us it is important to ensure the development of the NPO Energomash enterprise.”

In June 2013, the US Federal Trade Commission launched an antitrust investigation into United Launch Alliance, which was accused of “monopolizing” the rocket engine market and thus barring its direct rival, Orbital Sciences Corporation, from obtaining RD-180 engines for its Antares rocket booster to break into the lucrative market for US government rocket launches.

Experts say that the fact that Orbital Sciences Corporation is battling for the RD-180 could only mean that the company has so far failed to acquire anything similar on either the American, or the international space industry market.

Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket is powered by Aerojet AJ-26 engines, which are actually Soviet NK-33 engines produced for the super-heavy N-1 rocket booster of USSR lunar program. Orbital Sciences once managed to buy 43 NK-33 engines stored for decades in Russian space corporation’s depots, and then adopted them for their needs. Now Orbital Sciences would like to restart production of the NK-33, but Energomash announced that this engine is out of production for the time being. In this situation, Orbital Sciences is taking ULA to court for the right to buy Russia’s RD-180 rocket engines.

SpaceNews reported earlier this month that NASA’s internal agency audit is warning that the Orion deep-space manned spacecraft program faces a “difficult budget environment” that ultimately could cause delays and cost increases. The Orion capsule could be launched with various rockets, including ULA’s Atlas V and Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9.

In spring this year, Amazon founder and space enthusiast Jeff Bezos, owner of the Blue Origin space exploration start-up, financed a successful expedition recovering two F-1 engines for Apollo project’s Saturn V rocket from the Atlantic sea bed near Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Bezos said that his fascination with space began back in 1969 with the Apollo program, when he saw astronaut Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon.

The rocket engines still remain property of NASA and the US government, and Bezos has promised have NASA put them on display at a museum in Seattle as “testament to the Apollo program.”

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Honduras: Congress Resurrects Military Police Force

Weekly News Update on the Americas | August 25, 2013

Honduras’ National Congress voted on Aug. 21 to approve a law creating the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), a new 5,000-member police unit composed of army reservists under the control of the military. This will be in addition to a 4,500-member “community police” force that the government is forming, according to an Aug. 12 announcement by Security Minister Arturo Corrales. Although he called the move a “change of course,” Corrales failed to explain the difference between the community police, which is to be operative by September, and the existing national police force.

The government’s plan to raise the number of police agents by 9,500 is clearly meant to respond to the dramatic increase in crime in Honduras; according to the United Nations, the country now has an annual murder rate of 84 for every 100,000 people, the highest in the world. Police corruption is a major problem, and police agents have been convicted of high-profile crimes [see Update #1187]. The current police force had 14,472 agents on the payroll as of May, but in a new police scandal, only 9,350 agents could be found at work during July.

The police changes come as candidates prepare for Nov. 24 general elections, which will choose a new president, the 128 members of Congress, the 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), and local mayors [Update #1162]. The main force behind the new military police is Juan Orlando Hernández, who has resigned from his post as president of the National Congress to run as the presidential candidate of the center-right National Party (PN)—the party of current president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa, who has governed Honduras since January 2010 without being able to contain the crime wave.

Human rights activists strongly oppose the proposed military police unit. “In no part of the world have the soldiers resolved security problems,” Omar Rivera, who directs the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), a coalition of civil society, organizations, told the French wire service AFP. He added that a serious fight against crime would require a fight against impunity. Bertha Oliva, the coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH), called the creation of the new force “a step backwards in the demilitarization of society and the democratization of the country.” “The soldiers in the streets have only left more death and mourning, because they aren’t prepared for being guarantors of security,” she said. The national police were removed from the military and put under civilian control in 1997. Death squads operated by the military and the police were implicated in the killings of 184 government opponents in the 1980s.

Critics also asked how the government would be able to pay for two new police units that would double the current number of active agents. José Simón Azcona, a legislative deputy from the centrist Liberal Party (PL) who supported the measure, suggested that the US would pay. The US government “offered collaboration… under the previous administration” for the conversion of four military battalions into police units, he said. (It is unclear whether he was referring to a previous administration in Honduras or in the US.) (El Nuevo Diario (Nicaragua) 8/12/13 from ACAN-EFE; Honduras Culture and Politics 8/22/13; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 8/22/13; La Nación (Costa Rica) 8/23/13 from AFP, EFE; Prensa Latina 8/24/13)

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance, Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Western logic on Syria: ‘We need to bomb it to save it’

RT | August 27, 2013

The military buildup in the Mediterranean indicates that Assad’s opponents intend to militarily intervene in Syria under cover of ‘humanitarian intervention’, a disingenuous narrative that could not be further from the truth.

Pictures and videos that have surfaced following the alleged use of chemical agents in the eastern suburbs of Damascus are profoundly disturbing and a thorough and substantial investigation into what took place there is absolutely essential. However, it is conversely disturbing that those Western governments who have staunchly supported anti-government militants are using this opportunity to legitimize the use of force against the government in Damascus.

The United States, Britain, and France are unwavering in their assertions that the Assad government and the Syrian Arab army were the perpetrators of the chemical weapon attack, despite no evidence to substantiate these claims. These governments seem to be sure that Damascus is guilty on the basis of it preventing a UN investigation team from visiting the site, and when investigators eventually did reach the area, it didn’t matter to them because they argued that the Syrian government had destroyed all evidence of wrongdoing.

Assad’s opponents have constructed a deeply cynical and hysterical political narrative that Western leaders are now parroting in unison.

There are several reasons why Damascus showed hesitation in allowing UN inspectors to access the site, the most apparent being that this attack allegedly took place in rebel-held strongholds on the outskirts of the capital, and that the security of the UN team could not be guaranteed if rebels attacked them or launched more chemical weapons during their visit.

Syrian rebels have demonstrated their hostility to UN forces on previous occasions; anti-government groups kidnapped 21 UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights in March, and another four peacekeepers later in May. That the UN convoy was fired upon by unidentified snipers is hardly surprising in that it is another stunt in a series of moves to escalate the situation to provoke an international response.

The UN team eventually made it to the site to collect evidence and, contrary to Western assertions, the UN claimed that it was still possible for the team of experts to gather necessary evidence despite the time elapsed since the alleged attack.

Who benefits from using chemical weapons?

The narrative that the Assad government used chemical weapons, specifically while a UN team was in Damascus to investigate previous uses of chemical weapons, is tactically and politically illogical and in no way serves the interests of the Syrian government.

These attacks transparently serve the interests of anti-government militias who have long called for NATO intervention, as well as the Syrian political opposition who are now refusing to take part in any planned Geneva negotiations. Furthermore, allegations that the regime used chemical weapons benefits the international opponents of Assad, who have materially and financially aided and armed non-state actors and foreign fighters on an unprecedented scale.

Above all, the use of chemical weapons benefits the arms industry, as four US warships with ballistic missiles are moving into position in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, ready to shower Damascus with Tomahawk cruise missiles – all under the auspices of protecting civilians. Lockheed Martin’s stock prices have dramatically shot up since news of the chemical weapons attack.

There are numerous revelations that would suggest that anti-government militias have access to these weapons and are in fact guilty of using them. Carla Del Ponte, head of a UN commission of inquiry that looked into the use of chemical weapons in northern Syria in late March suggested that the evidence was stronger to implicate anti-government militants in using chemical weapons, not the Syrian government.

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition’s Shaam News Network shows people inspecting bodies of children and adults laying on the ground as Syrian rebels claim they were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, 2013. (AFP Photo)

In May, Turkish police found cylinders of sarin nerve gas in the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front who were detained in the south near Syria’s northern border. In July, Russian experts submitted reports to the UN detailing how the missiles used in previous chemical weapon attacks were crude and not factory made, and that the chemical components found were not consistent with what the Syrian military has.

The Syrian military has just recently discovered chemical weapons in a rebel tunnel in the Jobar suburb of Damascus, including shells, gasmasks manufactured in the United States, chemical substances of Saudi Arabian origin. Arabic language reports also indicate that a former high-ranking Saudi Arabian member of Al-Nusra Front claimed that the group possessed chemical weapons in a tweet.

NATO intervention replicating the Kosovo model?

The speeches and statements from John Kerry, Laurent Fabius, or William Hague all imply that military action will be taken against Damascus despite lacking a legal basis of action. If ‘humanitarian intervention’ were to be undertaken, it would need approval from the UNSC in the form of a resolution, but such a resolution would not be passed because countries such as Russia believe that this kind of intervention would be used as a pretext to remove the legal government of Syria, as it has been used in the recent past in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya – all with undeniable abuses of force that have resulted in substantial civilian casualties.

Reports indicate that Obama’s team is now studying the NATO mission in Kosovo as a “possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.” It is ominous, alarming and bizarre how NATO’s intervention in the former Yugoslavia could be used a positive reference point for anything. NATO rained down bombs for 78 straight days, effectively smashing civilian infrastructure in Serbia and Montenegro while hospitals, schools, and public utilities were damaged beyond repair, killing over 1,200 civilians and injuring 4,500 more.

Despite Obama’s cautious tone in recent interviews, all indications point to military intervention already being decided. Carla Del Ponte’s assessment was whitewashed, and any other evidence provided by the UN that does not fit conveniently into the Western narrative will be suppressed – the US position is that it is already “too late” for any evidence to be credible.

The huge military buildup of US and British ships and warplanes in the Mediterranean comes while the Pentagon is reportedly making the initial preparations for a cruise missile attack on Syrian government forces.

The intransigence and cynical duplicity of Assad’s opponents is unparalleled, and their media outlets are complicit in pulling the heart strings of their audiences while offering a totally one-sided perspective in support of R2P, the ‘right to protect.’

The US, Britain, and France see themselves as righteous protectors, and rationality and evidence will not be enough to break their dangerous and ridiculous delusions; these states are the vanguards of militant corporatism and have demonstrated that they seek only their private economic and geopolitical objectives in the region.

Those countries that represent a balanced approach to this crisis should not stand idly by while the West ‘comes to the aid’ of the Syrian people with cruise missiles and airstrikes – they should not allow intervention under ‘humanitarian’ auspices to harm civilians and topple the legal authorities in Damascus.

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

Tony Blair says UK and US should intervene in Syria

Press TV – August 27, 2013

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on London and Washington to go to war in Syria to end what he claimed to be attacks on civilians “not seen since the dark days of Saddam”.

“People wince at the thought of intervention. But contemplate the future consequence of inaction and shudder,” said Blair who took Britain to the war in Iraq based on fabricated claims that Saddam had ready-to-launch weapons of mass destruction.

“Western policy is at a crossroads: commentary or action …. After the long and painful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay clear of the turmoil …. But we have collectively to understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work,” he wrote in an article for The Times on Tuesday.

Blair’s comments come as there are serious qualms that the claims, led by Britain, the US and France, of Syrian government having carried out the chemical attack that allegedly killed hundreds of people on Wednesday are nothing but another deception to justify war, as was the case in Iraq.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have been rattling sabers since Wednesday, saying they should intervene to end what Washington described as a “moral obscenity”.

However, Britain and its western allies have so far offered no evidence to support their claims against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.

The Conservative British PM will also have a hard time to persuade MPs to start a war after he was forced to promise to put any military action in Syria to parliamentary vote earlier this year after 82 Conservatives MPs signed a letter to demand such a process.

The opposition Labour party has also demanded the coalition government to ask for MPs’ approval before taking any military action.

Cameron has indicated he will consult the parliament with his office saying he could recall the parliament from a summer recess before it ends on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria.

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

London faces calls to make its case for a possible war before parliament

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Press TV – August 27, 2013

Opposition to a possible military intervention in Syria has intensified in Britain with the Labour party demanding that the government “make their case” before the parliament.

An alleged chemical attack hit parts of the Syrian capital Damascus on Wednesday killing hundreds of people.

Foreign-backed terrorists in the country claimed that the government forces were behind the assault in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar while medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, which treated those affected in the attack, said it cannot even “scientifically confirm” the use of chemical weapons.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said on Monday that the cabinet has to “make their case” in the parliament before they can make a decision whether to go to a new war, if any such decision is to be made.

“Given both the seriousness of the reported chemical weapons strikes in Syria, and the enduring and complex nature of the conflict itself, ahead of any action being taken I would fully expect the Prime Minister to make his case to Parliament,” Alexander said.

“[The Prime Minister must be] open about the objectives, the legal basis, and the anticipated effect of any [British military action],” he added.

Meanwhile, British Conservative MP John Baron, who is leading MPs’ demands for a parliamentary session on the matter, expressed serious concerns about Britain going to war without the approval of the UN Security Council because of a Russian opposition to military intervention in Syria.

“Essentially, it is a civil war. If the West intervenes without a UN resolution … I think there is a more serious risk of this escalating beyond Syrian boundaries,” he said.

This comes as legal experts have seriously questioned the legality of a military move against Syria, saying it would create a “controversial situation”.

“The difficulty here is there’s no threat as I understand it to the security of this country or the United States and therefore on what basis can we intervene?” Michael Caplan, an international lawyer, asked during an interview on BBC Radio 4.

Following the alleged chemical attack in Syria, which government forces say was a false flag attack by foreign-backed militants, Britain, the US and France have been beating drums of war to punish what Washington described as a “moral obscenity” by Bashar al-Asad government in Syria.

Russia has demanded evidence from the three on their claims but no proof has yet been presented or even announced to exist.

The situation has sparked fears that Britain is assisting the US to justify another war based on totally unfounded claims after former British PM Tony Blair tampered with evidence related to Iraq weapons of mass destruction to facilitate the invasion of the country in 2003.

The fears are especially strong because the Syrian government cannot have sensibly carried out a large-scale attack when UN weapons inspectors were stationed almost 20 kilometers away from the site of the attack, waiting to probe earlier claims of poisonous gas strikes.

Qualms are also fueled by sporadic reporting of Syrian foreign-backed militants being in possession of chemical weapons, including a Twitter post by Abdola Al-Jaledi, a former high-ranking member of the Jabaht al-Nusra militant group, which said his colleagues were in possession of chemical weapons.

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia ‘regrets’ US decision to shelve Syria talks

RT | August 27, 2013

Moscow has voiced “regret” over a US decision to put off bilateral talks over Syria. Russia has sought to placate calls for military action over the alleged use of chemical weapons, saying there is no evidence of the Assad regime’s complicity.

The US government announced it was postponing bilateral talks with Russia late Monday, citing “ongoing consultations” over the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

Russian and American officials had been scheduled to meet in The Hague on Wednesday for bilateral talks on the Syrian conflict.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov tweeted a response to the move Tuesday morning, expressing concern over Washington’s decision.

“It is a pity that our western partners have decided to cancel the bilateral US-Russian meeting to discuss calls for an international conference on Syria,” Gatilov wrote on Twitter. He added in a later post that discussing terms for a political solution were needed now more than ever in the face of possible military intervention in Syria.

Plenary session of Russian State DumaDeputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman of the Russian Duma, Aleksey Pushkov also posted on his Twitter, alleging the US had already made the decision to strike Syria and they had gone too far.

A number of western countries including France, the US and the UK have condemned President Bashar Assad’s government for last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb and called for a response, hinting at possible military action. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minster David Cameron in a phone conversation that there was still no evidence the Assad government was behind the attack.

However, Cameron insisted that Assad’s forces were behind the “chemical weapons” attack, saying that the Syrian opposition did not have the facilities to orchestrate such an attack. Cameron also cited the Syrian government’s delay in allowing a team of UN experts to examine the site as an indication that it had something to hide.

Washington has also seen an increase in rhetoric, urging action against the Assad government. Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, decried the Assad government for the attack on her Twitter account, and demanded accountability:

“Haunting images of entire families dead in their beds. Verdict is clear: Assad has used CWs against civilians in violation of int’l norm.”

Meanwhile, the UN weapons inspectors are due to start their second day of investigations in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where the toxic attack happened last Wednesday. The team’s convoy of vehicles came under fire from unknown assailants Monday as they visited the area.

In spite of the sniper attack, the team managed to collect samples for analysis and gather witness testimonies at a local hospital. Contradicting claims from the US and UK that the probe was too late to yield accurate results, the UN stressed the mission was still valid, although almost a week has passed since the supposed attack.

The alleged attack took place last Wednesday in an eastern suburb of Syria’s capital. Media published conflicting reports on the death toll, ranging from “dozens” to over 1,300 dead. French charity Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) put the death toll at about 355.

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , | Leave a comment