A judge at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday barring the U.S. Air Force and United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp., from proceeding with planned purchases of Russian-made rocket engines.
Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk’s private aerospace company, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, had filed a formal protest asking for the injunction as part of its claim that the Air Force had unfairly prevented it from bidding on an $11 billion contract to build 27 rockets in a way that was “dangerous, fiscally irresponsible, and offensive to American values.”
ULA said it was awarded the contract because it was the only “government certified launch provider” that “meets all of the unique EELV (evolved expendable launch vehicle) requirements that are critical to supporting our troops and keeping our country safe.”
But SpaceX argued that the contract was awarded “outside of public scrutiny” and includes a rocket that uses a Russian-made RD-180 first-stage engine to launch national security payloads. The result, SpaceX says, is that the contract “funnels hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Russia’s military-industrial base, including monies that may flow to individuals on the U.S. sanctions list.”
In a recent press conference, Musk referred to the conflict in Ukraine, saying, “It’s very questionable in light of international events. It seems like the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin.”
The U.S. government has responded to the Ukrainian situation by imposing several restrictions on trade and other dealings with Russia, some specifically naming its Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.
In the court order, Judge Susan Braden wrote that the Air Force and ULA are prohibited “from making any purchases from or payment of money to NPO Energomash or any entity, whether governmental, corporate or individual, that is subject to the control of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.”
Judge Braden further wrote that the injunction would remain in effect “unless or until the court receives the opinion of the United States Department of the Treasury, and the United States Department of Commerce and United States Department of State.”