After announcing last week that it would be filing suit against the U.S. Air Force over the government agency’s decision to award a contract for national defense-related rocket launches exclusively to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint-venture between aeronautics industry leaders Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, without entertaining competitive bids. Last night, SpaceX won a small but significant victory (via Ars Technica) in its efforts to fight the sole-sourcing of defense space work, by winning an injunction against the ULA regarding its purchase of Russian rockets.
ULA was using RD-180 rockets for its U.S. government launches with the Atlas V launch vehicle, one of two employed in its space launch operations. SpaceX’s complaint argues that these rockets, manufactured by NPO Energomash, is in fact a corporation wholly owned and operated by the Russian government, and as such, purchase and use of its rockets are in violation of America’s recently imposed sanctions against Russia over its aggressive action in the Ukraine.
The court order says that any dealings with NPO Energomash are forbidden by the ULA, until either the US Treasury Department, as well as the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce, state that doing so would not be in violation of Executive Order 13,661, which is the order in which the sanctions are contained.
During the original press conference, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk suggested that this seemed like “the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” and generally cast doubt on the appropriateness of the use of Russian rockets in the American defense program.