As reported by arstechnica: Last week, the United States Court of Federal Claims granted an injunction that prevented US-based companies from purchasing Russian RD-180 rocket engines. That injunction was put in place to give the court time to examine whether or not buying those engines contravened Executive Order 13,661 designed to sanction persons in the Russian government over the ongoing Russian-Ukraine crisis. Yesterday afternoon, however, the same court sided with the US government’s appeal—to the best of the court’s knowledge, the purchase of RD-180 rocket engines doesn't violate the executive order.
The injunction was granted in response to a lawsuit by SpaceX and was specifically targeted at the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed-Martin and Boeing that manages space launches for the US government. SpaceX argued that it hadn't been allowed to compete for the contracts currently being serviced by the ULA. It also said that the money ULA uses to buy RD-180 engines for the Atlas V launch vehicle benefits Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.
Rogozin, SpaceX reasoned, is head of the Russian space program, and the RD-180 engines are manufactured by state-owned company NPO Energomash. Since Rogozin is also on a "Specifically Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List" (due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict), payments made to NPO Energomash were effectively made to Dmitry Rogozin—something that, if true, would be explicitly prohibited by Executive Order 13,661.
The injunction had been granted primarily on the basis of that potential violation rather than on whether or not SpaceX had been unlawfully prevented from bidding on the launch contracts. The US government formally filed a motion to dismiss the injunction on May 6; yesterday’s decision to grant the dismissal hinged on a number of letters filed with that motion, coming from the Departments of State, Commerce, and the Treasury.
When issuing the injunction last week, the court specifically stated that it would consider the opinion of those three departments in determining whether to extend or dissolve the injunction; it has now weighed in, with State and Treasury both saying that Executive Order 13,661 is not being violated and with Commerce deferring to the judgment of State and Treasury:
These letters collectively explain that “to the best of [the relevant Department’s] knowledge, purchases from and payments to NPO Energomash currently do not directly or indirectly contravene Executive Order 13,661.” Ex. A at 2; Ex. C at 2 (same); Ex. B at 1 (explaining that the United States Department of Commerce “defers to the Departments of the Treasury and State regarding whether... Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin... controls NPO Energomash and if so whether that control contravenes Executive Order 13,661”).Much in the same way that the injunction remained open on its potential dissolution, the dissolution order notes that if any agency of the US government does determine that there might be a chance that the rocket engine purchases are violating the executive order, the injunction might be resurrected:
If the Government receives any indication, however, that purchases from or payment of money to NPO Energomash by ULS, ULA, or the United States Air Force will directly or indirectly contravene Executive Order 13,661, the Government will inform the court immediately.
At this point, whether or not SpaceX was unlawfully barred from competing for the contracts remains an unaddressed issue. It's a pretty good bet that we'll see further legal wrangling from SpaceX on the matter.