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Space Shuttle's Demise Hits U.K. Trident Fleet

The U.S. space shuttle Discovery, seen on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The end of U.S. space shuttle launches in 2011 has boosted the cost of fuel for U.S. and British long-range missiles. The U.S. space shuttle Discovery, seen on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The end of U.S. space shuttle launches in 2011 has boosted the cost of fuel for U.S. and British long-range missiles. (Paul Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

The end of U.S. Space Shuttle launches three years ago has boosted the cost of fuel for British nuclear missiles, the London Telegraph reports.

The price of the solid fuel used in Trident 2 D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles leaped by 80 percent in just one year, the newspaper said in a Tuesday report. The United Kingdom maintains 58 of the U.S.-supplied weapons under a 1982 bilateral defense pact.

Washington is now limiting its annual purchases of the weapons to the minimum necessary to keep the fuel market afloat, prompting concern among some officials, according to the Telegraph.

Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the U.S. Navy's Strategic Systems Programs, warned last month that the absence of fuel demand from the Space Shuttle program is posing problems for an "already-fragile industry."

The United Kingdom, though, said such concerns had not altered missile cooperation with Washington, or a pending plan to revamp the British nuclear force.

"The U.S. has supplied the U.K. with solid fuel-powered missiles for over 40 years with an excellent safety and reliability record. The U.K. also has a sufficient pool of Trident missiles to meet our needs for decades to come," a British defense ministry spokeswoman said.

One agency insider, though, said the United States has yet to determine how it will ensure continued supplies of missile fuel.

The U.S. Navy wants NASA to purchase solid-fuel boosters for a next-generation rocket system, potentially stabilizing the market, the Telegraph reported. The U.S. space agency is slated to start work on the planned Space Launch System in 2017.

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