Treasury, State Back Air Force, ULA in RD-180 Purchases

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The U.S. State and Treasury departments say there is no reason that U.S. dealings with a Russian rocket engine maker should be stopped because of the current U.S. sanctions regime.

In letters submitted to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims May 6, the departments said that U.S. purchases from or payments to NPO Energomash do not violate an executive order issued by the Treasury Department in March sanctioning Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, a senior Kremlin official who oversees Russia's space and defense industries.

Backed by the letters, the U.S. government has asked the court to dissolve a preliminary injunction that bars it from buying RD-180 engines used to power the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket from Russia's NPO Energomash.

The letters upend claims by Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) that the government should prove payments made by the U.S. Air Force through its primary launch services provider to NPO Energomash do not benefit Rogozin.

Last week, SpaceX filed a protest with the court in an effort to open up a contract between the Air Force and ULA under the service's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The complaint relies heavily on the allegation that the majority of EELV launch vehicles use RD-180 rocket engines manufactured by NPO Energomash, “a corporation owned and controlled by the Russian government,” according to the company's April 28 filing.

Although the court has yet to rule on SpaceX's complaint, Judge Susan Braden issued a preliminary injunction April 30 stopping the U.S. Air Force and ULA from making any purchases from or payment of money to NPO Energomash or any entity subject to Rogozin's control until the Commerce, State and Treasury departments certify that they do not directly or indirectly contravene the executive order sanctioning him.

Treasury and State go so far as to say that even if such ties were discovered, Treausry would have to make an “affirmative determination” that such purchases or payments to NPO Energomash violate the current sanctions regime, setting an even higher hurdle than simply establsihing a link between the rocket engine maker and Rogozin.

“As of today, no such determination has been made with respect to NPO Energomash,” Smith asserts. “Therefore, to the best of our knowledge, purchases from and payments to NPO Energomash currently do not directly or indirectly contravene” U.S. sanctions.

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