A U.S. spy satellite successfully launched into orbit atop an American Atlas V rocket was ironically helped into orbit courtesy of a Russian-made rocket engine that provided part of the necessary boost.
As expected with the launch of a spy satellite, officials had little to say about the lift-off Thursday from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Experts who observed the launch trajectory say it was consistent with placing a spacecraft into an equatorial orbit, a common destination for spy satellites launched from the Florida facility.
The classified launch for the National Reconnaissance Office saw the NROL-67 spy satellite and its launch rocket blast off at 1:45 EDT on April 10 into an orbit around 22,300 miles above the earth.
The first-stage engine of the Atlas V rocket was sourced from RD AMROSS, a Florida company that acts as a U.S. affiliate of the Russian rocket engine company NPO Energomash.
First tested in 2000, the Russian engine's first successful launch in an Atlas V came in 2002.
The design was an evolution of the RD-170 engine series used in the Soviet Union's Engergia and Zenit rockets.
Amid the current political tensions regarding Russian actions in Ukraine and the Crimea, some U.S. officials have expressed worry about having to depend on Russian rocket technology in a U.S. space program.
However, United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture responsible for Atlas V launches, say it has on hand in the United States a two-year supply of engines, suggesting very little chance of political impacts on any upcoming national security missions.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon has begun a review to determine what the costs might by to develop and produce a U.S.-made replacement for the RD-180 engine.
Such a program would cost around $1 billion and could take five years, Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh was quoted as saying last month.
U.S. lawmakers say they're weighing future options, even though they would be expensive ones.
"If we decided to produce this engine domestically, clearly we have a big bill to pay," Richard J. Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said at a hearing last week.