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Satnews Daily
May 1st, 2014

U.S. Court Of Federal Claims, SpaceX + United Launch Alliance—The RD-180 Engine Injunction (Legal—Government)

[SatNews] On Wednesday, April 30th, a ruling by Judge Susan Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims dictated that sanctions law would be violated should United Launch Alliance continue to deal with NPO Energomash of Russia for the manufacturing and delivery of that firm’s RD-180 rocket engine.

This ruling was the result of an injunction filed by SpaceX to block the 50/50 Lockheed Martin-Boeing j-v company from obtaining the engine, the first stage power plant for the Atlas V launch vehicle, which is the crucial component of a non-compete and exclusive contract with the U.S. Air Force for the push of military satellites into orbit.

The desire by SpaceX to compete for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) contracts, worth some $70 billion dollars over the next 15 years, was the stated impetus for that firm's request for an injunction.

ULA’s response was, as expected, non-too positive toward Space X. "ULA is deeply concerned with this ruling and we will work closely with the Department of Justice to resolve the injunction expeditiously. In the meantime, ULA will continue to demonstrate our commitment to our National Security on the launch pad by assuring the safe delivery of the missions we are honored to support. SpaceX's attempt to disrupt a national security launch contract so long after the award ignores the potential implications to our National Security and our nation's ability to put Americans on board the International Space Station. This opportunistic action by SpaceX appears to be an attempt to circumvent the requirements imposed on those who seek to meet the challenging launch needs of the nation and to avoid having to follow the rules, regulations and standards expected of a company entrusted to support our nation's most sensitive missions."

The SpaceX statement: “The US Court of Federal Claims took a prudent step toward understanding whether United Launch Alliance's current sole-source contract violates US sanctions by sending taxpayer money to Russia for the RD-180 engine. That question—as well as others relating to the risks posed by dependence on Russian-made engines and the need to open competition for the Air Force space launch program—are timely and appropriate."

Braden’s ruling does not retroactively apply to the existing purchases between ULA and the Russian firm. This means the U.S. Air Force is not totally left without launch services for currently scheduled missions. However, this ruling does leave the future of ULA-USAF launch commitments in a quandary. The combination of this legal ruling, and Vladimir Putin’s aggressive actions in Crimea and the Ukraine which have resulted in the imposition of sanctions against Russia by the U.S., have certainly negated the continued acquisition of the RD-180 engine… for now…