SpaceX blocks rocket sale for military

Elon Musk, chief at SpaceX, filed a lawsuit challenging a Boeing-Lockheed Martin deal with the Air Force.
Duane A. Laverty /AP, FILE
Elon Musk, chief at SpaceX, filed a lawsuit challenging a Boeing-Lockheed Martin deal with the Air Force.

WASHINGTON — Billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies won a court order temporarily blocking a Boeing-Lockheed Martin venture from buying Russian-made rocket engines for the US Air Force because they potentially violate federal sanctions.

US Court of Federal Claims Judge Susan Braden in Washington halted the engine sales until she receives the opinion of the departments of Treasury, Commerce, and State ‘‘that any such purchases or payments will not directly or indirectly contravene’’ President Obama’s March 16 order imposing sanctions on Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, who heads the country’s defense and space industries.

Competition for military satellite launches, which have an estimated value of $70 billion through 2030 and are the fourth- largest program in the defense budget, could save taxpayers more than $1 billion a year, according to Musk. SpaceX sued April 28 accusing the Air Force of illegally shutting it out of the business by giving a monopoly to the Boeing-Lockheed venture, known as United Launch Alliance LLC.


An Air Force representative did not immediately respond to an e-mail to its media center before business hours seeking comment on the decision.

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‘‘ULA is deeply concerned with this ruling and we will work closely with the Department of Justice to resolve the injunction expeditiously,’’ Kevin MacGary, ULA general counsel, said in a statement.

SpaceX’s objection to Russian involvement ‘‘ignores the potential implications to our national security and our nation’s ability to put Americans on board the International Space Station,’’ MacGary said.

NASA uses Russian Soyuz rockets to get astronauts to the space station after having ended its shuttle program in 2011.

That dependence was not lost on Rogozin, who responded to an expansion of US sanctions Tuesday, tweeting:‘‘I suggest the US delivers its astronauts to the ISS with a trampoline’’


It is unclear what, if any, impact Braden’s ruling will have on ULA operations. The alliance will continue ‘‘assuring the safe delivery of the missions we are honored to support,’’ MacGary said.

ULA has a two-year inventory of the Russian engines in the United States, according to Jessica Rye, a spokeswoman for alliance.

The engines are made by the Russian government-owned NPO Ergomash.