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US government asks court to lift ban on Russian rocket engine purchases

May 08, 2014, 11:12 UTC+3 WASHINGTON
However, it is not politics that really led to the court trial but the fierce competition within the US
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© EPA/NASA

WASHINGTON, May 08. /ITAR-TASS/. US Government and United Launch Alliance (ULA) requested the Court of Federal Claims on Wednesday to lift its temporary ban on purchasing Russian-designed rocket engines RD-180 for the US Atlas V launch systems.

The ban ruled by judge Susan Braden a week ago is temporary and may be cancelled if the Department of the Treasury, Department of Commerce and Department of State provide a paper that RD-180 supplies do not breach the President’s sanction law. The document, saying that the use of these rocket engines in the US is not in direct or indirect contravention of the sanction legislation, was presented to the judge on the ULA’s request on Wednesday.

It is not only the ULA, a joint venture of the aerospace industry giants Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, that is keen to see the ban lifted but also the Pentagon, or rather the US air force, on whose commission the ULA launches military and spy satellites under exclusive billion dollar contracts.

According to the Pentagon’s Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, this program will not be harmed in the foreseeable future, as the US has a stock sufficient for the following two years and contracts for RD-180 supplies from the Moscow region town Khimki for another couple of years. Besides, the temporary ban does not include the contracts already signed.

However, it is not politics that really led to the court trial but the fierce competition within the US. Vying for its share of the pie, Californian SpaceX Corporation that has its own rocket Falcon-9 made use of the favorable political environment to challenge the ULA’s monopoly for military satellites launches. The company filed a lawsuit against the competitor and the air force, explaining it with the ULA’s violation of the US sanctions.

Meanwhile, space experts predicted from the very start the temporary ban would be lifted, and judge Braden is expected to revise her verdict in the near future.

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