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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 @11:27AM (#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.
    • This case turns the usual defense procurement bugaboo on its head.
      • by icebike (68054) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @12:22PM (#46890815)

        This case turns the usual defense procurement bugaboo on its head.

        Not really.
        This decision won't stand. The DOD will not let some meddlesome judge stand in the way of a security need, and friendlier judges will quickly overturn it. (It was a temporary injunction anyway).

        Look people, this is just to get their (Air Force's) attention. It isn't going to be a permanent thing, by simply making headlines it has served its purpose. (Note that the Russian's will probably block the sale anyway soon).

        DOD will promise to revise the bidding, they may also tell Pratt and Whitney to start manufacturing these engines in western countries (P&W bought the license to do this a long time ago, but it was never economic to do so in the past). 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.

        But mostly, the purpose was an attention grab, to demonstrate how stupid it is to encourage US companies to develop lift capabilities and then turn around and buy Russian made engines on a sole source contract.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          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 icebike (68054) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @03:03PM (#46893045)

            Utter nonsense.

            Look, we all acknowledge the accomplishments Mother Russia, OK?
            But stop trying to make out that this is either high tech or difficult to make. Its a very basic simple design (as is almost all Russian space hardware), simply scaled up.

            Engines with the exact same principal of operation powered the Shuttle [wikipedia.org]. It had the additional requirement of being reusable. SpaceX already has the Raptor engine [wikipedia.org] in production and testing.

            The metallurgy is not a particular impediment, because it was already developed for prior rocket motors (F1 [wikipedia.org]) as far back as the 50s.

            • by dbIII (701233)

              But stop trying to make out that this is either high tech or difficult to make

              With respect, it's rocket science you oaf and not just running a cable. It may not be the acme of rockets but it's still had more care and effort put into it than anything you can buy at Walmart, a car dealer or even a used aeroplane auction.

            • by delt0r (999393)
              The RD-180 engines had performance spec much better than anything the US has produced that burns RP-1. Also it has a very high thrust to weight ratio. The shuttle engine is not the same. The preburner is hydrogen rich for both the LOX and LH turbo pumps. While the RD-180 is oxygen rich and burns RP-1 as fuel. They are completely different. The space shuttle engine is a economic failure and has a good bit to do with the 500M per launch cost.

              The F1 engine uses a gas generator cycle and thus as lower perfor
        • by Rich0 (548339)

          But mostly, the purpose was an attention grab, to demonstrate how stupid it is to encourage US companies to develop lift capabilities and then turn around and buy Russian made engines on a sole source contract.

          If these really are essential for national defense, then they should be sourced entirely within the US, or they should at the very least have a number of suppliers from a diverse set of nations (so that no matter what side of a war we end up on, somebody is still willing to sell them to us). That's why Israel deals with both the US and Russia - they're too small to build EVERYTHING themselves so they diversify so that neither "side" can cut them off entirely.

          The US is large enough that there really is no e

    • by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @11:41AM (#46890267)

      Unable? This is about maximizing profit, not ability. They looked into domestic production of this engine and decided to save the billion or so dollars. Looking at this court decision, they may have made the right decision if they get stuck competing with a lower-cost provider of launches.

      I'm not sure that SpaceX will prevail in the short term. Ostensibly, the reason the military is willing to pay the Alliance so much is they can't insure their satellites, so they need a very reliable launch vehicle instead. Perhaps SpaceX will prove to be very reliable, but they aren't there yet.

      • And of course it's in the U.S. interest to make sure the Russians have an active and completely up-to-date source of rocket engines for their nuclear missles.

        In this vein, I wonder what it is we are paying the Chinese to do?

      • Perhaps SpaceX will prove to be very reliable, but they aren't there yet.

        There's 50% of the problem. SpaceX can test all they want to proven launch worthiness, but it how they handle problems with their systems that the customer is looking at--which they have minimal experience in compared to the ULA. It's the [stupid] man-years advertisement.

        Now the other 50% is that DoD likely loves their current political and economic arrangement they have with ULA, so changing that will ripple to all suppliers... and ha

  • Wow. (Score:5, Funny)

    by MouseTheLuckyDog (2752443) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @11:28AM (#46890051)

    Guess those Russian trampolines aren't so good after all.

  • Why (Score:5, Informative)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @11:33AM (#46890143)

    The summary doesn't mention anything about "WHY" they made this ruling or why there was a lawsuit in the first place.

    USAF awarded Russia a no-bid contract on 36 rocket boosters. SpaceX filed suit requesting consideration for the contract. The court filed an injunction to prevent sales being made while the trial moves forward.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Aerospace is a decades old pile of pork and graft. Contracts are awarded to whoever can bribe congress critters the best.

      SpaceX can make some noise here. There's probably a lot of cold war era laws regarding requirements for defense projects to be US manufactured.

      I mean really. Cheap imported Russian rockets resold by a cold war era aerospace dinosaur vs an all-American entrepreneur company?

      • by Teancum (67324)

        I mean really. Cheap imported Russian rockets resold by a cold war era aerospace dinosaur vs an all-American entrepreneur company?

        Russian rocket engines. The rest of the rocket is manufactured in America, but the engines (arguably the most critical part though) is made in Russia.

    • Re:Why (Score:4, Informative)

      by Last_Available_Usern (756093) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @12:01PM (#46890529)
      To be clear, USAF awarded ULA (United Launch Alliance, jointly run by Boeing and Lockheed) the uncompeted contract. What this prevents is ULA from making purchases from Russia for parts, which essentially cripples their entire contract since the Russian parts included the first-stage engine I believe. Without that, ULA doesn't have a functional rocket as far as I can tell. I'm sure ULA will find an intermediary who will "just happen" to have some of these engines laying around that they can then use to fulfill the contract. The bigger question is whether the contract as a whole will be recompeted, as it should.
      • by icebike (68054)

        The contract will probably be re-opened, and this temporary injunction is mostly aimed at doing just that.

        DOD will not let it stand in the way of their mission critical launches.
        When security critical payloads need to be put in orbit this ruling goes away without a whimper.
        To paraphrase Joseph Stalin: "How many divisions does the Court of Federal Claims have?"

        DOD and Launch Alliance has nothing to worry about from the Court or from SpaceX. They SHOULD be worried about Putin.

      • Re:Why (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jafac (1449) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @12:37PM (#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).

        • Re:Why (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ChinggisK (1133009) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @01:22PM (#46891695)

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

          Got a citation on that? Last I heard there was no definitive plan to end the Delta IV program, in fact it would be insane considering Atlas' precarious engine situation.

        • by cbhacking (979169)

          SpaceX Falcon boosters are already quite capable of in-air restart; it's a critical part of their reusable first-stage design (the first stage re-lights at low elevation for a powered touchdown). As for accuracy of payloads, that's one of the critical requirements for ISS transfer, which they have demonstrated repeatedly now. Reliability remains to be seen; they've had no catastrophic failures yet (and they've had at least one sub-last-second automatic launch scrub when the computers detected a problem) but

      • by Teancum (67324)

        I think it is funny to no end for SpaceX to bring out the Obama administration executive orders about prohibiting purchase of parts or supplies from Russia.... and in particularly prohibiting any sort of renumeration toward Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin by name.

      • The bigger question is whether the contract as a whole will be recompeted, as it should.

        Like hell it should. SpaceX was late to the party, and like everyone else should wait for the next round.

    • by zuckie13 (1334005)
      Let's get this factually correct at least: USAF awarded United Launch Alliance (ULA), a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed, a no-bid contract on 36 rockets. Of those, some will be an Atlas-V (Lockheed Made) , and some will be a Delta-IV (Boeing made). Only the Atlas uses the Russian made Engine (called an RD-180 over here), the rest of that rocket is made here. The Delta uses an different engine (RS-68), which is made here. This injunction would prevent buying only engines and only for the Atlas f
    • I don't think this will be an issue much longer giving the current state of relations between the US and Russia. As US sanctions continue to ramp up they will start sanctioning entire industries instead of just sticking it to Russia's wealthy elite. They have already cancelled a contract for Russia to provide 10 refurbished helicopters to Afghanistan. The only reason Russia has not mentioned down sizing the cooperation on the ISS is because the US currently owes them over $470 million for their launch serv

  • From "Ad astra per aspera" to "Ad astra per embargo" apparently.

  • Just as Russia resurrects the Solvet holiday of May Day

    http://www.theguardian.com/wor... [theguardian.com]

    • May day isn't a soviet holiday, it's originally an American Holiday for American unions.

      To quote the almighty wikipedia:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]

      The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) refers to the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square[2] in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers by the police, the previous day. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

      The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers.[7][8] The site of the incident was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992,[9] and a public sculpture was dedicated there in 2004. In addition, the Haymarket Martyrs' Monument at the defendants' burial site in nearby Forest Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997.[10]

      "No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair. It began with a rally on May 4, 1886, but the consequences are still being felt today. Although the rally is included in American history textbooks, very few present the event accurately or point out its significance," according to labor studies professor William J. Adelman.[11]

      • Apparently you did not live through the cold war. It is traditionally the Workers Day, yes, but the parade was of a military nature as well.

        Not a good sign they are returning to the USSR ways.

        Next the Gulags will reopen, and maybe a good old fasioned Stalinist purge too?

        • It's a generic Spring Festival event. Maypoles, Whitsun and all sort of other "Oh look - It's sunny" events predate the cold war, haymarket and other modern stuff by hundreds and thousands of years.

          As with Easter, Christmas and the solstices, the dates aren't relevant, they just take a ride on existing festivals.
           

          • No, it is not. Unless you include tanks, AA missiles, ICBMs and giant formations of soldiers as "festive"

            I suggest you do a little Googling to understand what May Day in Red Square is specifically about.

            And btw, May Day was not celebrated, it was banned by the Czars, until Lenin overthrew the Government:

            May Day was celebrated illegally in Russia until the February Revolution enabled the first legal celebration in 1917. The following year, after the Bolshevik seizure of power, the May Day celebrations were b

      • May day isn't a soviet holiday, it's originally an American Holiday for American unions.

        America isn't the only country to have May day. In fact it's rather late to the party.

        • I swear, they teach you kids nothing in school.

          May Day in Red Square is a SOVIET holiday, traditionally showing off the latest military hardware, like ICBMs, tanks, cruise missles, huge formations of men, jet fighter flyovers.

          Not much there for the "common man" except to intimidate them into towing the line.

        • by unixisc (2429386)
          I don't recall May Day ever being observed in the US. It's Labor Day that's observed instead, somewhere in September
  • by Erich (151) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @02:03PM (#46892231) Homepage Journal
    My understanding is that ULA gets paid lots and lots of money to maintain two independent launch vehicles, the Atlas V and the Delta IV. That way if one of the rockets is grounded for some reason, space access is still available.

    ULA prefers Atlas V because it is more profitable for them. But it uses engines from Russia.

    The Russian engines are purchased from a company with ties to one of the people targeted by US sanctions against Russia... so the judge has granted the injunction to prevent purchasing those Russian engines.

    ULA has a stockpile of some Russian engines already, and they have the (less profitable for them) Delta IV if they can't launch Atlas V for any reason... and running out of engines would be one of those reasons. But ULA would prefer to continue buying engines. But we've been paying them to have both rockets available, so they'd better be able to show up with what they've promised.

    Separate from this injunction, SpaceX is asking for a review of the large block by of ULA cores, as it was done just before (a few days before) one of the final milestones of SpaceX being qualified to launch for the air force. I think it's not unreasonable for them to say that it's unacceptable to do a huge purchase when if you wait for a few days you would have multiple vendors competing for the bid.

    Even John McCain thinks that contract smells fishy: link [dodbuzz.com]

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