ULA Blames SpaceX for Rocket Engine Spat

While the Lockheed-Boeing joint venture said it wasn't aware of any restrictions on sales of the RD-180, it put fault for the fiasco squarely on SpaceX.

A Lockheed Martin Corp.-Boeing Co. joint venture is blaming start-up rocket-maker SpaceX for the growing imbroglio between the U.S. and Russia over rocket engines, GPS satellites and even missions to the International Space Station.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, in a post on his Twitter account Tuesday indicated that Russia plans to stop supplying the U.S. with its RD-180 rocket engine, which is used to launch military and spy satellites for the Defense Department.

The engine is made by the Russian company NPO Energomash and used by the Lockheed-Boeing joint venture, known as United Launch Alliance LLC, as a first-stage engine on its Atlas V rocket as part of the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

“Russia is ready to continue deliveries of RD-180 engines to the US only under the guarantee that they won’t be used in the interests of the Pentagon,” Rogozin tweeted.

He also wrote that Russia “doesn’t plan to continue cooperation” with the U.S. on the International Space Station after 2020 — four years earlier than planned — and that it would deactivate sites of the U.S.-managed GPS system in the country.

The messages were viewed as retaliation against U.S. sanctions levied in response to Russia’s invasion and subsequent annexation of the Ukraine’s Crimea earlier this year. Rogozin, who heads up the country’s defense and space industries, was on a list of Russian officials targeted in March by the White House for economic sanctions.

While the Lockheed-Boeing joint venture said it wasn’t aware of any restrictions on sales of the RD-180, it put fault for the spat squarely on SpaceX, which has repeatedly raised objections to the U.S.’s reliance on Russia for access to space in its quest to compete in the military market.

“United Launch Alliance (ULA) and our NPO Energomash supplier in Russia are not aware of any restrictions,” the joint venture said in a statement. “However, if recent news reports are accurate, it affirms that SpaceX’s irresponsible actions have created unnecessary distractions, threatened U.S. military satellite operations, and undermined our future relationship with the International Space Station.”

SpaceX has sued the Air Force to open more of its launches to competition. A judge in the case issued a temporary injunction preventing the U.S. government from buying the Russian engine, though later lifted the order after federal agencies certified the payments didn’t violate sanctions against Rogozin.

The U.S. has enough RD-180 engines to supply launches into 2016, Air Force Deputy Undersecretary Eric Fanning has said.

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.