NASA Is Making Nukes More Expensive

When NASA terminated the space shuttle program, it also deprived solid fuel manufacturers of their main customer. The result is a massive spike in propellant prices, which is increasing the cost of the U.S.-UK Trident nuclear program.

Both the space shuttle and the submarine-launched Trident rely on booster engines containing a powerful solid rocket fuel. (The Trident can't use liquid fuel, because it's too dangerous to store in the confined space of a submarine.) NASA had purchased 70 percent of all solid propellant manufactured in the U.S. until 2011, when the shuttle fleet was retired. Since then, solid fuel prices for the military have increased by around 80 percent.

As the Telegraph reports:

Hundreds of Trident missiles are bought in bulk by the U.S. military, of which 58 are given to the UK under terms of a 1982 agreement struck between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Britain will decide in 2016 whether to renew the Trident system at a cost of more than £20 [$34] billion. While the surge in fuel prices would be only a small portion of the overall cost of renewing Trident, the rising costs have caused alarm in the U.S.

The American military is currently buying 12 missiles a year, the bare minimum to keep the solid rocket fuel industry from collapsing for lack of business.

Vice Admiral Terry Benedict, director of the U.S. Navy's Strategic Systems Programmes, warned that the lack of demand was putting strain on "already-fragile industry."

The U.S. Navy is pinning its hopes of propping up the industry on NASA committing to solid fuel boosters once more when it begins the Space Launch System, a successor to the shuttle, in 2017.