If Buying Russian Engines is So Important, Why Did ULA Try to Prevent OSC From Doing So Too?

Yesterday, the Court of Federal Appeals issued a temporary injunction barring United Launch Alliance from making further purchases or receiving shipments of Russian built RD-180 rocket engines until the matter can be reviewed by three different oversight agencies. The order came as a result of the lawsuit filed Monday by SpaceX against the USAF/ULA  EELV block.

Interestingly, the injunction did not come due a request by SpaceX, but instead because the lawsuit, which focuses in part on ULA’s reliance on the Russian engines has turned a spotlight on the RD-180 and its possible connection to Russian space minister Dimitry Rogozin, who is one of the individuals named in targeted sanctions against Russia over its annexation of the Crimea.  Based on the vocal response from Rogozin, who yesterday suggested NASA may need a trampoline to get its astronauts to the space station, this is one instance where sanctions are at least having some effect.

ULA which maintains it has a 2.5 year supply of the engines on hand is predictably outraged, making the following statement (courtesy of spacepolicyonline.com) :

“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. Just like ULA, NASA and numerous other companies lawfully conduct business with the same Russian company, other Russia state-owned industries, and Russian Federation agencies. 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.”

Of course, some might suggest that if ULA was so deeply concerned about importance of an American company acquiring the Russian engines, the company  might not have done everything it could to keep Orbital Sciences from purchasing the very same engines, actions which resulted in both a lawsuit from Orbital, and an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for trade violations. While the lawsuit has been subsequently suspended, and OSC appears to be going a different direction with the ATK merger announced this week,  the irony, and quite frankly the outrageous hypocrisy is over the top.

For an in-depth look at the disheartening merger which created ULA, and the lengthy history of that company’s efforts to prevent SpaceX from entering the EELV market, all while demanding continuing subsidy and monopoly privilege, it might be worth taking a look at the following two articles in the Space Review from 2011 on the “published material” page for Innerspace.net. Many of the same arguments made by SpaceX in its lawsuit are foreshadowed in the two pieces. For a look at yet another attempt by ULA to have the taxpayer pick up its tab, even as it attempts to prevent competition, take a look at the Space News Editorial page.

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