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SpaceX lawsuit set back after judge lifts injunction against ULA

Judge Susan Braden lifted the injunction barring United Launch Alliance from dealing with a Russian rocket developer on Thursday. The temporary injunction was the result of a lawsuit by rival company SpaceX. SpaceX claimed that the purchases made by ULA violated the federal sanctions against Russia created in reaction the the Ukraine situation.

ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin responsible for launching Department of Defense satellites into orbit, uses rocket engines from NPO Energomash, a Russian state-controlled company. SpaceX asserted that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has a direct relationship with NPO. Since Rogozin is named on the US government’s blocked persons list, the judge issued the injunction last week to suspend any further purchases.

Judge Braden, who is hearing the case, said that she had herself consulted the US Department of State, along with several other branches of the government, about the issue. The State and Treasury Departments said that they needed to make an “affirmative determination” in order to specifically block a company. Such a determination had not been made regarding NPO.

SpaceX used the lawsuit to challenge the monopoly ULA currently has over launching military and intelligence satellites. ULA signed a deal with the US Air Force to guarantee the purchase of 36 rocket cores for future launches, effectively locking SpaceX out of the lucrative area for the near future.

With the injunction gone, ULA’s multibillion dollar contract is safe for now, but SpaceX may seek other ways to challenge it. In a statement, ULA said that the lawsuit by SpaceX was self-serving and irresponsible.

“Sadly, SpaceX’s frivolous lawsuit caused unnecessary distraction of the executive and judicial branch and increased tensions with Russia during a sensitive national security crisis,” said ULA. “We continue to hope that SpaceX will revisit its underlying lawsuit and the merits of its case.”