WASHINGTON — The U.S. Treasury and State departments told a federal judge May 6 that United Launch Alliance’s purchase of Russian-made engines for its Atlas 5 rocket does not appear to violate White House sanctions against a top Russian official.
The findings, filed May 6 with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, could help clear the way for ULA to resume purchases of the RD-180 engine, which were temporarily halted by the court April 30.
In issuing the temporary injunction halting the purchases, Judge Susan Braden cited the possibility that some of the transaction money could wind up in the hands of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees Russia’s space industry. Rogozin is one of 11 senior Russian officials sanctioned by the U.S. government following Russia’s incursions into Ukraine.
The injunction was intended to stand pending input from the Treasury, State and Commerce departments on whether buying the engine ran afoul of the sanctions, which bars U.S. trade in defense and other high-technology goods and services with the named entities.
The RD-180 engine is built by NPO Energomash of Russia and sold to ULA by RD-Amross, a joint venture between Energomash and United Technologies Corp.
Braden’s injunction was prompted by a lawsuit filed by rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies Corp. protesting Air Force plans to buy a large batch of rockets from ULA on a sole-source basis.
SpaceX did not specifically ask the court to halt RD-180 purchases, but the company has alleged that Rogozin is financially benefiting from the arrangement, something the Russian official has denied.
In the April 30 hearing on SpaceX’s complaint, U.S. government officials said they could not guarantee that RD-180 money was not flowing to Rogozin.
But in subsequent letters filed with the court, Treasury, Commerce and State department officials said no decision had been made to specifically label NPO Energomash as a Rogozin-controlled enterprise.
Additionally, “to the best of our knowledge, purchases from and payments to NPO Energomash currently do not directly or indirectly contravene” the sanctions, Bradley Smith, chief counsel for the Treasury Department, said in a May 6 letter to the court.
Attorneys for the State Department echoed the Treasury sentiment nearly word for word. Attorneys for the Commerce Department deferred to the State and Treasury departments.
During the hearing, Braden told attorneys for the government, “I don’t want money being transferred to anybody that’s associated with the Russian individuals on that list … or their companies, frankly,” according to a court transcript. “We need to stop right now to figure out what’s going on. I don’t know and you don’t know either.”