U.S. Court Lifts RD-180 Injunction


A U.S. federal judge lifted a preliminary injunction May 8 that blocked the U.S. government and United Launch Alliance (ULA) from buying Russian RD-180 engines used to power the Atlas 5 rocket.

The ruling dismisses a claim by Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) that the government should prove payments made by the U.S. Air Force to RD-180 prime contractor NPO Energomash through ULA do not benefit Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, one of several Kremlin officials sanctioned in March by the U.S. Treasury Department in response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

Last week, SpaceX filed a protest with the court in an effort to break 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 launches 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, ULA and its subsidiary, United Launch Services (ULS) 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.

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 Rogozin, who oversees Russia's space and defense industries.

In a May 7 filing to the court, SpaceX counsel Richard Vacura argued that the letters provided were “nonresponsive” because they stated “that these agencies have simply not yet made any determination one way or the other regarding whether payments to NPO Energomash” violate the U.S. sanctions regime against Rogozin.

“There should be little doubt that the Russian engines at issue come from an entity that operates in the Russian arms or related materiel sector and is controlled by or acts at least indirectly, if not directly, on behalf of Russian government officials, including Rogozin as an explicitly blocked official,” Vacura wrote.

The filing goes on to assert the Treasury Department has not reviewed NPO Energomash's activities, because if it had, “it presumably would determine that NPO Energomash does operate in the arms sector in Russia and is controlled by a senior Russian government official, in which case dealings by ULS with Energomash would be prohibited.”

Treasury should “promptly review NPO Energomash's activities and make the appropriate determination, including whether the nature of ULS's dealings with NPO Energomash implicate the sanctions on Rogozin,” Vacura wrote.

In a response submitted to the court May 7 by legal counsel for ULA, the company said there is no legal basis for the preliminary injunction, “and dissolving it will cause no harm whatsoever” to SpaceX. “Meanwhile, the injunction is contrary to the public interest in national security, and keeping it in place will inflict irreparable harm on ULS.”

Specifically, attorneys for ULA said if left in place, the injunction would harm ULS in its effort as a team member on two competitive proposals now pending, as well as a number of “additional competitive proposals for launch services in the coming weeks and months.”

Continued enforcement of the injunction, ULA's attorneys argue, “will cause potential customers to question ULS's reliability and ability to maintain schedule, because of the uncertainty regarding whether ULS will be able to purchase additional Russian engines for future Atlas 5 launch vehicles.”

“Unless the preliminary injunction is lifted immediately, and certainly restored to ULS's core business, there is a significant threat that ULS and its team members will unfairly lose these business opportunities,” the ULA filing said.

The company currently has 16 RD-180 engines in the U.S., and has ordered 36 more from RD Amross, a joint venture of NPO Energomash and UTC, under a block-buy agreement signed in December.

In a May 8 order, Braden dissolved the preliminary injunction, noting that if the departments learn that any purchases from or payments to NPO Energomash in some manner benefit Rogozin, they are to inform the court.

In a May 8 statement issued after the injunction was lifted, ULA said: “Sadly, SpaceX’s frivolous lawsuit caused unnecessary distraction of the executive and judicial branch and increased tensions with Russia during a sensitive national security crisis."

Describing SpaceX’s actions as self-serving and irresponsible, ULA said the company has threatened U.S. involvement in the International Space Station and other companies and projects working with Russian entities.

“We continue to hope that SpaceX will revisit its underlying lawsuit and the merits of its case," ULA said.  "The fact remains, even today SpaceX is not certified to launch even one mission under the block buy contract -- a contract that was authorized and announced more than two years ago, without objection by SpaceX, and is saving the U.S. taxpayers over $4 billion.”

Discuss this Blog Entry 8

on May 9, 2014

The self interest of Space x (Brand X) is all about Elon Musk.

on May 9, 2014

Why are we selling F-35's and partnering with Turkey on this aircraft when they are a state sponsor of terrorism?

In his article from the 17 September in the International Journal Foreign Policy , American author and scholar in Middle Eastern studies Jonathan Schanzer wrote that “Turkey currently serves as the home for Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri, whom the Palestinian movement's website identifies as the founder of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's armed wing, in the West Bank,” adding that he is considered to be "one of the most important leaders of Hamas … involved in a lot of things including finance and logistics." From Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Turkey is also involved in other nefarious activities that are aiding and financing international terrorism.

Please comment why the US is partnering with Turkey on this aircraft? I don't think we should.

on May 10, 2014

Your tribal loyalties obviously blind you to the fact that the US is also a "state sponsor of terrorism" - viz the latest example in the Ukraine. Try researching some news sources not based in the US/EU, such as Asia Times Online, for more info. WARNING: You must be prepared to leave your indoctrination behind.

on May 14, 2014

I have read atimes.com on and off for years. Their virulent anti-american hatred is explicit and many, but not all, of their correspondents are completely nutty. I hope you can find a better news source than this one.

on May 9, 2014

I am becoming increasingly concerned with the US's continuing lack of ability to produce domestically manufactured aerospace systems which are used in national security interests.
The aerospace/defense sector was the last industry this nation had a clear lead in but now is faced with very formidable competition from established foreign manufacturers as well as rapidly rising powers such as China, Turkey, India, Indonesia and others.
The fact that sensitive US military payloads sent to space by Atlas 5 rockets powered by Russian engines makes me cringe especially considering Russia has made it clear that it is returning to the Cold War military power it once had due to it's growing hostility to the US.

on May 10, 2014

"it's growing hostility to the US" - God, not another one. Please read some news which doesn't automatically follow the US Party line. Why do you think this "hostility" has arisen. You have it completely back to front. Wise up!

on May 13, 2014

It's nothing surprising how US administrative can be "flexible" towards own punishments-sanction of Russia when comes to the important US interest.But in other hand showing in very vivid shape how is even US space programs and engineering suffer equally like many others Industry branch from same kind of greedy policy or intentional reversing of manufacturing in countries whit cheaper work, in this particular case exist one more factor, like is that very same engines by its performance is still between the best few in the world.

on May 14, 2014

The bottom line is that one more time the US Govt is willing to sacrifice American security interests if it saves them a buck. We should not have been using Russian engines to begin with, nor should we be sending our manufacturing to the Communist Chinese in order to make profits because of the low cost of their slave labor. Its time for America to stand up for its principles. Buy American, Launch American.

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