An Atlas V rocket launches from Cape Canaveral in this 2013 Air Force file photo. A judge has ended an injunction barring the purchase of the RD-180 engine used by the Atlas V. (Patrick H. Corkery/ULA)
WASHINGTON — A federal judge has lifted an injunction preventing the United Launch Alliance (ULA) from purchasing a Russian-made rocket engine, according to court documents.
Judge Susan Braden lifted the injunction after officials for the US State, Treasury and Commerce departments indicated they found no reason to believe the purchase of RD-180 engines, used in ULA’s Atlas V rocket, violated government sanctions against a top Russian official.
Braden put in the injunction in place April 30 over concerns between RD-180 manufacturer NPO Energomash and its connection with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who was placed on the sanctions list by the US government as a result of the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine.
While dissolving the injunction, Braden asked that “If the Government receives any indication, however, that purchases from or payment of money to NPO Energomash by ULS, ULA, or the United States Air Force will directly or indirectly contravene Executive Order 13,661, the Government will inform the court immediately.”
The injunction had been put in place following a lawsuit filed April 25 by upstart launch company SpaceX. That protest sought to challenge a US Air Force decision to award a block-buy contract for 36 launches to ULA.
“The letters submitted by U.S. Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce explicitly stated that NPO Energomash is not subject to any of the current sanctions and that ULA’s continued purchase of the RD-180 does not directly or indirectly contravene the Ukraine sanctions,” a ULA company statement read. “Sadly, SpaceX’s frivolous lawsuit caused unnecessary distraction of the executive and judicial branch and increased tensions with Russia during a sensitive national security crisis.”
SpaceX, along with the newly-merged Orbital ATK, represent the first real threats to ULA’s monopoly on the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle military launch program.