Late Wednesday, the presiding judge in the US Court of Federal Claims case between SpaceX and the US Air Force issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Air Force and United Launch Alliance (ULA) from purchasing RD-180 rocket engines from Russian company NPO Energomash. In her three-page decision, Judge Susan G. Braden concluded that purchases of those engines could run afoul of sanctions levied on Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the Russian space industry. SpaceX made that argument in its complaint filed with the court on Monday: “In other words, under the ULA Contract, the Air Force is sending millions of dollars directly to an entity controlled by Russia and to an industry led by an individual identified for sanctions.”
The injunction by Judge Braden blocks purchases from and payments to NPO Energomash “unless and until the court receives the opinion of the United States Department of the Treasury, and the United States Department of Commerce and United States Department of State, that any such purchases or payments will not directly or indirectly contravene Executive Order 13,661,” the order that levied the sanctions on Rogozin and other Russian officials.
The injunction does not affect payments already made to, or purchase orders already placed with, NPO Energomash. Since ULA was not planning to receive any engines from Energomash until August, per a report last week in The Hill, the injunction has little impact on ULA and the Air Force in the short term. However, the injuction may offer some insights into the judge’s initial impressions of the SpaceX suit, since the opinion notes that several criteria are required in order for a preliminary injunction to be issued, including “a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits” and “irreparable harm if an injunction is not granted.”
Update 11:15am: ULA responded to the injunction with a statement issued to a select group of media outlets (which, after a delay, it did post to its website by midday Eastern time). In the statement, ULA general counsel Kevin MacCary said the company is “deeply concerned” with the suit and will work with the Justice Department “to resolve the injunction expeditiously.” MacCary also criticized SpaceX for its “opportunistic action” in seeking the injunction. “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,” he said in the statement.