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​An artist rendering of the AR1. Aerojet Rocketdyne photo.

​The Air Force on Monday awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne and United Launch Alliance contracts to enter into a public-private partnership with the service to develop a prototype engine to replace the Russian-made RD-180. The government will initially invest $115.3 million in Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1, while the initial investment in ULA’s Vulcan/BE-4 rocket propulsion system and the ACES rocket propulsion system is $46.6 million. "Having two or more domestic, commercially viable launch providers that also meet national security space requirements continues to be our end goal," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, the Air Force's program executive officer for space and Space and Missile Systems Center commander. Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake said the AR1 “is the option with the least technical risk” and is “on track for a flight-qualified engine delivery in 2019, which will fly in 2020.” Aerojet Rocketdyne and ULA had been investing in the engine ahead of the agreement, and the engine passed its first major design review in December. The service in January entered into similar agreements with SpaceX and Orbital ATK. "These innovative public-private partnerships with industry as they develop their rocket propulsion systems are a key part of the EELV [Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle] acquisition strategy to assure access to space and address the urgent need to transition away from strategic foreign reliance." (See also: The Plan to End Reliance on Russian Rocket Engines.) (USAF release.)