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Thursday, May 1, 2014

SpaceX Wins Injunction To Stop USAF From Buying Russian Rocket Engines - Russia's Deputy PM Suggests Getting To Space on a Trampoline

As reported by Reuters: A U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge issued an injunction late Wednesday prohibiting a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing from proceeding with plans to buy Russian-made rocket engines used to send U.S. Air Force satellites into space.

Space Exploration Technologies, the privately held company known as SpaceX, won the temporary injunction against the U.S. government and contractors Boeing and Lockheed operating as United Launch Alliance.

The U.S. Air Force and United Launch Alliance are prohibited "from making any purchases from or payment of money to NPO Energomash", Federal Claims Court Judge Susan Braden wrote in the order.
The preliminary injunction does not extend to any purchase orders placed or money paid to Russian rocket engine maker NPO Energomash prior to the date of the order.

Lawmakers on Wednesday called for a program to develop a next-generation liquid-fuel rocket engine within five years, proposing legislation aimed at reducing U.S. dependence on Russian engines to launch military and spy satellites.

Moscow's annexation of neighbor Ukraine's Crimea region and the massing of Russian troops near the border have left East-West relations more tense than at any time since the Cold War.

SpaceX, which manufactures and launches rockets and spacecraft, last week filed a lawsuit to protest the Air Force's award of a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract for 36 rocket launches to a partnership of the two biggest U.S. weapons makers.

The company wants the Air Force to reverse the sole-source award of 36 boosters to United Launch Alliance and open the procurement to commercial competition.

United Launch Alliance, the U.S. Air Force and NPO Energomash were not available for immediate comment.

SpaceX, co-founded by investor Elon Musk who also heads electric car company Tesla, says its rockets are U.S. made.

In related news: Russia's Deputy PM Suggests Using A Trampoline To Get To Space

Dmitry Rogozin, shown in January 2012.  (Yves Logghe/AP)Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has become one of the most vocal critics of the United States in the past few months, often using his English-language Twitter account to fire off insults against the economic policies which he himself is personally targeted by.

On Tuesday, Rogozin lashed out again, this time at newly announced U.S. ban on high-tech exports to Russia.

"The U.S. introduced sanctions against our space industry. God knows, we warned them: we respond to declarations w/ declarations, to actions w/ actions," Rogozin tweeted, later adding: "After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest the U.S. delivers its astronauts to the ISS [international space station] with a trampoline."

Rogozin does actually have a point, although his threats carry much less weight than he may hope.

It's true that Russian shuttles are currently the only option for getting U.S. citizens to get to the space station, and the United States pays Russia some $71 million per person they get up there. In fact, Russia is due to get a $457.9 million payment for its services soon. If it really wanted to, Russia could stop U.S. astronauts from reaching the station, despite the fact that the United States funded as much as $100 billion of the space station's $160 billion price tag. Worse still, it could refuse to let the two U.S. citizens currently on the space station return home.

Thankfully, that seems a remote possibility – $457.9 million a lot of money for Russia's aerospace industry, and few believe that Russia would actually give it up. Plus, as Jeffrey Kluger noted at Time Magazine last month, Russia may not want to push the United States into the hands of SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, two private American companies that hope to be able to send passengers to the station soon. So, while things may be a little awkward for a while, don't expect a change to the status quo.

Rogozin's comments on Tuesday are just his latest criticism of U.S. sanctions. At the beginning of April, he mocked Western attempts to targeted his foreign assets, tweeting, "Have you found my accounts, money transfers, real estate, luxury cars, yachts, etc?"

His criticism is legitimate – asset seizures only work if there are foreign assets to seize (or if those can be found), and, as The Post's Michael Birnbaum recently reported, there are few signs of sanctions on the street in Russia. However, when Rogozin asked those who sanctioned him to "send me your teeth ground in impotent rage," he may have gone a bit far.