SpaceX amends complaint against Air Force

A diagram of ULA's Atlas V rocket, featuring the Russian RD-180 engine that's a focus of SpaceX's complaint.


By EMMA PEREZ-TREVINO | Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas | Published: May 21, 2014

HARLINGEN, Texas — SpaceX has amended its complaint against the U.S. Air Force continuing to seek meaningful competition for rocket launches and to bar an aerospace competitor from buying Russian engines.

The complaint centers on the Air Force’s contractual relationship with the SpaceX competitor — United Launch Alliance — regarding the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program. The amended complaint before the United State Court of Federal Claims points out the May 13 announcement by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin that he was barring delivery of rocket engines to the United States for use in the launch of military satellites.

The Russian engines include the RD-180 that ULA, which has a facility in Harlingen, uses in its Atlas rockets.

Although a temporary injunction barring ULA from buying the Russian engines for its Atlas 5 rocket was lifted, SpaceX continues to challenge the U.S. Air Force’s purchase of ULA rockets without opening it to competition.

In the most recent court filing, the California-based Space Exploration Technologies, which is in the process of developing a launch site here on Boca Chica Beach, said its amended complaint is the result of four recent developments:

  • SpaceX has submitted all required flight data for its third qualifying certification launch, and SpaceX is therefore eligible to compete for the Air Force’s business.
  • Recent Air Force statements indicate that it will purchase some or all of its future launch vehicles on a sole-source basis from ULA, even though SpaceX is eligible to compete.
  • The Air Force recently indicated that, during the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, it will purchase a number of launch vehicles for which SpaceX is qualified to compete.
  • SpaceX learned on April 17 that the Air Force decided not to open the purchase to competition because the Air Force has an “existing 36-core contractual requirement” with ULA.

This is among the most recent developments in the complaint that SpaceX brought against the Air Force April 28 in the federal claims court in Washington D.C. ULA intervened in the litigation.

On May 8, U.S. Judge Susan G. Braden, based on the representations of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of State, lifted the ban she had issued April 30 on the Air Force and ULA’s dealings with Russian engine-maker NPO Energomash, finding that their dealings did not contravene U.S. sanctions against Russia.

SpaceX maintains that Rogozin, who is on the sanctions list, controls NPO Energomash.

SpaceX noted that if the court does not grant immediate relief and requires the Air Force to issue one or more solicitations and conduct competitions for these launch services, SpaceX will lose the opportunity to compete for and win hundreds of millions of dollars of business.

The United States and ULA have not yet responded to SpaceX’s amended complaint.