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SpaceX Wins Injunction Against Russian Rocket Purchases 166

Posted by timothy
from the oh-elon-please-don't-do-this dept.
Rambo Tribble (1273454) writes "Reuters is reporting that Space Exploration Technologies, aka SpaceX, has won a Federal Claims Court temporary injunction against the purchase by United Launch Alliance of Russian-made rocket boosters, intended for use by the United States Air Force. In her ruling Judge Susan Braden prohibited ULA and the USAF, 'from making any purchases from or payment of money to [Russian firm] NPO Energomash.' United Launch Alliance is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin."
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SpaceX Wins Injunction Against Russian Rocket Purchases

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  • by Powys (1274816) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @12:27PM (#46890037)
    It's a wonder that all the government spending on Lockeed and Boeing they have been unable to produce a viable engine themselves. They do have a huge lobbying force, so I doubt this is over yet.
  • Re:Why (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jafac (1449) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @01:37PM (#46891003) Homepage

    The ULA boosters are Lockheed's Atlas V (with the Russian RD-180 engine), and the Boeing Delta IV (which, I believe uses the Rocketdyne RS-68).

    However, Boeing has pulled the Delta IV from the market, so there will be a limited number of these launched in the future.

    I think that Boeing's decision was one of the reasons that prompted the launch-services merger. The RS-68 was expensive to develop, (and expensive to fly; part of that was the choice to use hydrogen+LOX, instead of kerosene+LOX like the RD-180) - and they weren't making enough profit on the launches, and were ready to bail from the market entirely; while Lockheed's decision to use the RD-180 saved them money - it made them the only player in the medium/heavy launch market.

    One thing about the Delta IV; is that it had capabilities that Atlas does not have, like in-air restarts, better reliability, more accurate payload delivery. Don't get me wrong, I think that both vehicles have their merits. The market will suffer with the loss of the Delta IV; and hopefully SpaceX can help, but SpaceX's goal is going to be cheaper launches, and it remains to be seen whether Falcon can deliver any of those features. (the other question about Falcon, is whether they can deliver the Heavy Lift capability which is a HUGE gap right now. Both Atlas and Delta have flown in "heavy" configurations - both of which are essentially "hacks" - but no worse than Ares was going to be).

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Thursday May 01, 2014 @01:43PM (#46891095) Homepage Journal

    You're confused. It's called levelling the playing field. What the USAF did was sign a no-bid contract with the Boeing/Lockheed to purchase Russian rocket engines. A huge no-no in the public sphere, if not illegal. The only way to get them to reverse on that was to go to court.

    It isn't wrong to do sole source contracts as a public entity. I did them when I was working for a state agency several times. The big thing is that you need to demonstrate convincingly (and be willing to back that up in a court room if necessary... like SpaceX is trying to call the bluff here with regards to ULA and the USAF) that the company you are sole sourcing is really the only company which could possibly provide the project being desired.

    There are a couple of ways to get that to happen, and one of common methods (IMHO it really is corruption at its finest) is to over specify the technical requirements in such a way that one and only one company could possibly present a bid. For example with a computer, you could require that the computer has certain non-standard connectors, be very specific with an operating system (especially an off-beat OS like QNX), monitors have a 63.224 Hz screen refresh capability (or some other really weird number like this), and other details that exclude anybody else. You can reject any other potential bids simply because they failed to meet the original specification.

    That is essentially what ULA has done here with regards to their rocket purchases, and SpaceX is crying foul by pointing out their rockets are just as capable to put up many of the same payloads reliably as well. Once the Falcon Heavy has launched a few times (its first launch may be this year or early next year), SpaceX will literally be able to launch anything ULA has with its inventory of rockets. There are other companies like ATK-Orbital that could conceivably be able to compete as well at least for some of these payloads.

    The analogy would be some state college putting out for bid a bunch of Mac computers, and some PC dealer filing protest suggesting their products are just as capable for the applications being done at the college. The Apple dealer would point out that specialized software excludes the PCs, and the finger pointing goes on from there in the protest.

    Indeed I think Elon Musk and his lawyers are going to bring up Orbital several times if this goes before a courtroom basically saying "it isn't just us".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @03:29PM (#46892591)

    This isn't particularly difficult tech to build when all of the plans and specs are already in US hands due to long existing licensing deals.

    The RD-180 is a staged combustion LOX/RP-1 rocket engine with an oxygen rich pre-burner. Until the 1990s Oxidizer-rich staged combustion had been considered by American engineers, but deemed impossible. [wikipedia.org]
    It is particularly difficult tech. To get the metallurgy and the coating right to withstand pressurized hot oxygen isn't simply a matter of plans and specs. It's about experience.
    It's far from impossible but it will take a lot of money and time to produce a reliable RD-180 eninge in the US.

  • by unixisc (2429386) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @11:11PM (#46896497)

    Believing it would have been fine had the US overhauled it's foreign policy to be Russia friendly, and not supported renegade insurgencies like the Chechens. Expanding NATO would have been fine had the Russians too been included in it. At that time, Yeltsin was running things, and being more sensitive to Russian sensibilities would have actually allowed for the 'Peace Dividend' to materialize.

    But the US continued to slash its military budget while the State Department continued to act like the Kremlin was still the adversary.

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