Russia said it will no longer export rocket engines to the U.S. to launch military satellites, adding to a dispute in Washington that already pits the two biggest U.S. defense contractors against billionaire Elon Musk.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters in Moscow today that Russian engines can be used only to launch civilian payloads, amid tensions over Russia’s support for separatists in Ukraine and the U.S. and European economic sanctions that have followed.
The Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines are used by United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture of top contractors Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) and Boeing Co. (BA) that’s the sole supplier of rocket launches for the Pentagon. The engines power Atlas V rockets.
Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has sued the U.S. Air Force, claiming it created an illegal monopoly for the military’s satellite launch business.
SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, also contends that the contract with United Launch Alliance funnels money from American taxpayers to Russia’s military industrial complex and potentially to those under U.S. sanctions because of the Ukraine crisis.
Last week, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Susan Braden lifted an order that temporarily blocked the Air Force from buying the Russian engines.
Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters today that United Launch Alliance has a two-year supply of the engines, “so we’ll be able to conduct scheduled launches.”
United Launch Alliance was in the process of taking delivery of five more engines this year, its spokeswoman, Jessica Rye, said May 1.
The two-year inventory of engines enables a “smooth transition to our other rocket, Delta, which has all U.S.- produced rocket engines,” Rye said in an e-mail today.
Referring to Rogozin’s comments, Rye said, “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.”
Rogozin, himself a target of U.S. sanctions, told reporters that Russia won’t extend its role in the International Space Station beyond 2020. He also said that Russia would close U.S. Global Positioning System satellites’ ground stations in Russia on June 1 unless the U.S. allows access to Russia’s competing Glonass system.
Ian Christopher McCaleb, senior vice president at Levick, a public relations firm representing SpaceX, said he had no immediate comment.
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