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Elon Musk halts deal between US Air Force and Russian rocket-makers

Published time: May 01, 2014 20:23
Edited time: May 01, 2014 21:03
CEO and chief designer of SpaceX Elon Musk (Alex Wong / Getty Images / AFP)

CEO and chief designer of SpaceX Elon Musk (Alex Wong / Getty Images / AFP)

​A decision handed out late Wednesday by a United States Court of Federal Claims judge will for now keep the American aerospace industry from buying Russian-made rockets.

Judge Susan G. Branden issued an injunction this week just days after California’s SpaceX company asked the US government to reconsider a deal between the Air Force and United Launch Services — a joint-venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing — that’s expected to involve space-related contracts with Russian rocket maker NPO Energomash.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk asked the feds to intervene because not only was he opposed to the Air Force awarding a non-competitive contract to the ULA without seeking other bids, but also because he thought other American companies should be considered in the midst of an international crisis that has caused tensions between Washington and Moscow to worsen in recent weeks due to the ongoing unrest in Ukraine.

The Lockheed-Boeing alliance, Musk said, relies on Russian-made engines for its Atlas V rockets.

"The long-term contract, which guarantees the purchase of 36 rocket cores from ULA to be used in national security launches, was granted to ULA on a sole-source basis without any competition from other launch providers," SpaceX said in a statement last week.

“This is not SpaceX protesting and saying these launches should be awarded to us,” Musk added. “We’re just saying these launches should be competed. If we compete and lose, that’s fine. But why would they not even compete it? That doesn’t make sense.”

On Wednesday evening, Judge Branden agreed, ruling that, "in the court’s judgment,the public interest and national defense and security concerns that underlie Executive Order 13,661 warrant issuance of a preliminary injunction in this case,” thus prohibiting both the US Air Force and ULA “from making any purchase from or payment of money to NPO Energomash.”

Judge Branden’s decision also prohibits the Air Force and ULA from doing business with any entity, whether governmental, corporate or individuals, that is controlled by Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin — just one of the latest foreign officials sanctioned by Washington as a result of Moscow’s perceived role in the unrest that continues to plague eastern Ukraine.

After being hit with sanctions, Rogozin announced over Twitter on Thursday that he had a new plan that could help get the US into space without relying on Russian companies any longer.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (RIA Novosti / Andrey Iglov)

"After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest the US delivers its astronauts to the ISS [international space station] with a trampoline.” Rogozin wrote.

NBC News reported this week that Judge Branden’s Wednesday night decision will keep the Air Force and ULA from purchasing any Russian-made engines unless and until either the Department of Treasury or Commerce say such contractors wouldn’t go against US sanctions.

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