SpaceX has won an injunction from a federal judge, preventing ULA from buying any further Russian engines.

SpaceX has won an injunction from a federal judge, preventing ULA from buying any further Russian engines.

Federal Claims Court Judge Susan Braden said her preliminary injunction was warranted because of the possibility that United Launch Alliance’s purchase of Russian-made engines might run afoul of the sanctions. NBC News’ past coverage of the issue was cited in Braden’s ruling.

Wednesday’s injunction prohibits any future purchases or payments by the Air Force or United Launch Alliance to NPO Energomash, unless and until the Treasury Department or the Commerce Department determines that the deal doesn’t run counter to the U.S. sanctions against Russian officials. Braden stressed that her ruling does not affect previous payments to the Russians, or purchase orders that have already been placed. United Launch Alliance says it already has some of the engines on hand.

This injunction is not directed specifically at the Air Force’s bulk buy from ULA, nor does it address the cartel-like nature of the ULA monopoly for Air Force launches that SpaceX is challenging. However, it does put a serious crimp, if temporary, on the use of Lockheed Martin’s Atlas 5 rocket, which depends on the engine for all its launches. Though the company has engines in stock, they will quickly run out with no way to immediately replace them.

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8 comments

  • wodun

    Wonder if they could sue Orbital considering the engine source for the Antares.

    Also wonder, who would have standing to sue the feds over treaty violations for flying astronauts on Russian launchers. That might get the government serious about flying Americans on American launchers.

  • Kelly Starks

    >..Though the company has engines in stock, they will quickly run out with no way to immediately replace them…

    They reportedly have over a 2 year supply. So they aren’t likely to run out.

    A bigger issue would be if they stall the order – will Putin go ahead with his previous threat to block all international sales of the engines?

    This also could backfire on SpaceX. The DOD is not going to be happy to have their programs disrupted and attempts to deny them launch access. They will remember this in future competitions where SpaceX is a bidder. They already have a rep as a “spoiler” with the gov.

    McDonnell Douglas was pretty much put out of business by retaliation after they won a big court case with the AF. Suddenly they went from the dominant provider of all flying assets for the DOD, to losing every contract they bid on until they finally sold out to Boeing.

    • Dick Eagleson

      The DOD is not going to be happy to have their programs disrupted and attempts to deny them launch access.

      Nobody’s trying to “deny them launch access.” All SpaceX is trying to do is restore a competitive marketplace in space launch services for government military and intelligence payloads. ULA and the USAF first tried to fend off SpaceX by making them jump through hoops to become “certified” – a process ULA never had to go through itself for either Atlas V or Delta IV. When SpaceX made the first of three required launches toward certification, ULA and a few of their pet procurement officers tried to pull another fast one and keep SpaceX aced out of the military/intel launch business for an additional five or so years by locking up all the future launches in a non-competed block buy deal. Having since completed all additional launches required for certification, SpaceX is simply calling out ULA on their underhnaded little play.

      They will remember this in future competitions where SpaceX is a bidder.

      SpaceX has already amply demonstrated that it’s a company willing and able to fight duels with its competition using cleavers in a dark cellar if necessary. Any procurement puke who doesn’t want to be sued out of his pension would do well to remember that if they’re even slightly inclined to carry water for ULA in any non-justifiable way.

      They already have a rep as a “spoiler” with the gov.

      Which part of “the gov?” Musk claims to have good relations with most of USAF – the actual operators, I’m assuming. He has some understandable issues with procurement types whose post-retirement featherbeds at ULA might be jeopardized by a little actual competition being injected into USAF buying decisions.

      McDonnell Douglas was pretty much put out of business by retaliation after they won a big court case with the AF. Suddenly they went from the dominant provider of all flying assets for the DOD, to losing every contract they bid on until they finally sold out to Boeing.

      McDonnell-Douglas went under mostly because they got killed in the civilian airliner market. The DC-10 sold pitifully compared to the 747 and a lot more of them fell out of the air and made high-profile messes. The MD-80 and MD-90-series birds got killed by the 737 in the short-haul markets. The MD-11 was a pretty good airplane, but you know what they say about never getting a second chance to make a good first impression. They were still winning military contracts, however, as recently as the C-17. McD-D used to build a lot of fighters. But USAF buys a lot fewer fighters of a lot fewer types than they used to. In the last 25 years there have only been two new fighter contracts, the F-22 and the F-35. The total numbers of both are pitiful compared to the 4,000 units of the F-16 built to-date, for example. With subsequent generations of “fighters” almost certainly being UAV’s, it’s problematical how “lucky” the winners of the F-22 and F-35 contracts are going to turn out to be, long-term. Neither LockMart nor Boeing are major UAV players at this point. As far as I’m concerned, the luckiest thing the legacy aerospace majors have going for them is that Elon Musk doesn”t seem to have a bit of interest in making weapons. Probably a good thing. He’s already plenty busy being Henry Ford and Delos D. Harriman. I’m not sure he could handle being Tony Stark too.

    • I agree with much of this.

      It’s one thing to dispute a contract award. It’s another when that appeal gets sucked into the maelstrom of an international crisis. This is a very tense and unpredictable situation with the U.S. and Russia, with a lot hanging in the balance. This could give Putin an excuse to cut off all exports of the RD-180, which has been previously discussed by his national security council.

      That would be a real mess for the Air Force and national security agencies. It’s not like shifting a package from UPS to FedEx. SpaceX could get blamed for the resulting disruptions. Not sure Elon Musk would really care if it meant getting more launches sooner. It would piss off a lot of other people.

      The strangest thing here is the timing of the appeal and what seems to have spurred it. Musk was asked about it during the press conference. He claimed he didn’t know about the bulk buy until March. Specifically, he claimed the contract was announced day after a Senate hearing. He also said it was no accident that this was kept quiet for about three months.

      None of that appears true. The contract was signed in December. It was published on the government website where such things are announced. It was written about in the media. There was no coverup or delay.

      What the Air Force did announce the day after the hearing was a change in the openly bidded launches for 2015-17. Instead of 14, it would be 7 (and possibly 8) with five more deferred to 2018 and beyond (when SpaceX will be able to bid on all launches). That seems to have been what set this off. Meanwhile, the Ukraine crisis erupted, and SpaceX through the sanction into its appeal and ended up blocking ULA from obtaining Russian engines.

      You have to ask, is the delay on being able to bid on a handful of launches worth the sort of disruption and consequences that this appeal could produce? Especially for a company that is not yet certified to launch any defense payloads and has yet to establish a regular schedule for launches?

      • Kelly Starks

        > It’s one thing to dispute a contract award. It’s another when that appeal gets sucked into the maelstrom of an international crisis. This
        > is a very tense and unpredictable situation with the U.S. and Russia, with a lot hanging in the balance. This could give Putin an
        > excuse to cut off all exports of the RD-180, which has been previously discussed by his national security council.

        Putin was talking about not allowing RD-180 exports anyway. Treating the sales as if they were draining vital Russian resources to the evil americans.

        I wonder if our starting up our own production line for the RDS-180s will happen, and if it will settle things out.

        > That would be a real mess for the Air Force and national security agencies. It’s not like shifting a package from UPS to FedEx.
        > SpaceX could get blamed for the resulting disruptions. Not sure Elon Musk would really care if it meant getting more launches
        > sooner. It would piss off a lot of other people.

        Pissing off big customers with legal stunts is never a good marketing strategy. The big ones (especially the DOD) get even, the little ones figure if you’ll play games with a big player you owe, you won’t hesitate to play them when it suits you.

        > The strangest thing here is the timing of the appeal and what seems to have spurred it….

        Musk had to be figuring stalling the RD-180 buy, and possibly stalling it enough so it gets canceled, might force the DOD to transfer to him from the Atlas. No way he just coincidently disrupted the buy right now in the middle of this.

        >..You have to ask, is the delay on being able to bid on a handful of launches worth the sort of disruption and consequences that this appeal
        > could produce? Especially for a company that is not yet certified to launch any defense payloads and has yet to establish a regular schedule for launches?

        Threatening National security assets and deployment schedules during a time of heightened international conflict for business positioning…that could play very badly in DC, and he’s very dependent on support from DC.

  • Kelly Starks

    >>he DOD is not going to be happy to have their programs disrupted and attempts to deny them launch access.

    > Nobody’s trying to “deny them launch access.” …

    They need Atlas-V to do the launches for their cargos. SpaceX is trying to disrupt that source avalibility, and has been driving the costs of them up. That’s not exactly helping the DOD.

    >..“certified” – a process ULA never had to go through itself for either Atlas V or Delta IV….

    Actually they weer, though the process was different and done during the development review. Given SpaceX doesn’t really document much of anything, they could be audited etc.

    >..by locking up all the future launches in a non-competed block buy deal. ..

    Which would have lowered the DOD costs like most all bulk purchases…..

    >> they will remember this in future competitions where SpaceX is a bidder.

    > SpaceX has already amply demonstrated that it’s a company willing and able to fight duels with its competition…

    Fighting duels with THE CUSTOMERS is a bad marketing tactic.

    >> They already have a rep as a “spoiler” with the gov.

    > Which part of “the gov?”

    NASA and DOD. He can’t launch the cargo built to launch on the Atlas its not designed for it, and its a high rick launcher (not good if your launching one of a kind craft). Slowing up the procurement etc. drives up the costs. Getting the clout to for the DOD to use them adds lots more costs to the DOD flights and more program and operational costs and delays.

    >.. He has some understandable issues with procurement types …

    >> McDonnell Douglas was pretty much put out of business by retaliation after they won a big court
    >> case with the AF. Suddenly they went from the dominant provider of all flying assets for the DOD,
    >> to losing every contract they bid on until they finally sold out to Boeing.

    > McDonnell-Douglas went under mostly because they got killed in the civilian airliner market. =

    They didn’t go under. They weer highly profitable right up to the end where they sold out.

    > They were still winning military contracts, however, as recently as the C-17…..

    That was the contract the AF payed games with them on, they sued, won, and never won another contract.

    >… With subsequent generations of “fighters” almost certainly being UAV’s,..

    Not that was a disastrous attempt. Fighters need quick response and tight situational awareness and serious person to person skill. UAVs can’t do that.

  • ken anthony

    Disruption could well be the point with all the right people being upset.

    Who are the idiots that thought Russia was the nice guy?

    SpaceX is developing new American technology. Leave it to an immigrant.

    • Kelly Starks

      > Who are the idiots that thought Russia was the nice guy?

      It was politically correct to assume after the fall of the wall, all conflict with Russia was a thing of the past.

      Reality bites those who ignore it.

      To be fair the RD-180 is a very good engine, and we don’t make anything like it since it was also in vogue to assume Hydrogen/Oxygen engines were superior so we didn’t need any kerosene / oxygen engines.

      ;/

      And we did make sure we had production plans so we could set up our own production line is we wanted…. which we well may want to real soon.

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