SpaceX Wins Block On Russian Rocket Engine Purchases

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SpaceX filed suit against the U.S. Air Force this week in connection with the lack of competition for the military’s rockets, which currently only use engines made in Russia. NBC News reports today that a federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction which prohibits the Air Force from purchasing rocket engines from Russia because of U.S. sanctions against the nation’s officials.

U.S. sanctions a positive for SpaceX’s lawsuit

SpaceX filed the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The company stated that the United Launch Alliance purchases its RD-180 from NPO Energomash, which is controlled by the Russian government. The commercial space company said in its complaint that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin—one of those sanctioned by the U.S. in connection with the Ukraine invasion—could benefit from the purchases. Rogoin oversees Russia’s space program.

On Tuesday, the  Russian deputy prime minister warned the U.S. about this very issue, saying that the decision to sanction would hurt America’s space program. He said NASA should use a “trampoline” to transport its astronauts to the space station from now on. Currently NASA has arrangements with Moscow for Russian spacecraft to bring U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. The arrangement was put in place when NASA retired its space shuttles. NASA said recently that the damaged relationship between the U.S. and Russia has not yet hurt operations on the space station.

SpaceX refers to past Boeing deal

Last week when SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that they were suing the U.S. Air Force, he referenced a deal between the military and The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA). That deal was made ten years ago and ended up sparking a scandal regarding competition for the tanker aircraft contract.

The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT) have partnered to create the United Launch Alliance, which is the only commercial operation the Air Force has certified to launch payloads into space. The agreement with the military is part of a block-buy arrangement. The Air Force has already committed to buy 36 rocket cores—which are expected to contain engines made in Russia—from the ULA.

SpaceX is trying to put a hold on that agreement until its own Falcon 9 rocket has been certified for these launches so that it can enter a bid for the contract. The commercial spaceflight company has said that its own rockets are significantly less expensive than those made by the ULA and would save U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars.

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