FTC Investigating ULA for Alleged Anti-Trust Actions

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Atlas V launches OTV3 into orbit from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance.)

Atlas V launches OTV3 into orbit from Cape Canaveral. (Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance.)

Reuters reports on a FTC investigation of United Launch Alliance for allegedly denying Orbital Sciences the ability to purchase RD-180 engines for the Antares launch vehicle:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating whether United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, violated federal antitrust laws by “monopolizing” or restraining competition through an exclusivity agreement with the maker of the engines used in its rockets, according to a FTC document obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.

RD Amross, a joint venture of Russia’s NPO Energomash and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a unit of United Technologies Corp, provides RD-180 engines for ULA rockets….

Industry sources said the FTC investigation follows repeated unsuccessful efforts by Orbital to buy the RD-180 engines for its new medium-lift Antares rocket, which was developed in partnership with NASA to haul cargo to the International Space Station. The first Antares rocket was launched from a new commercial spaceport in Virginia in April.

Orbital ultimately used the AJ-26 engine, a refurbished Russian engine that is supplied by Aerojet, a unit of GenCorp Inc, to power the rocket. But that engine is no longer in production and there are only limited supplies available.

To be a viable competitor in the future, industry sources say Orbital needs access to the RD-180 engine, the only liquid propulsion engine in production that is commercially available and can be used for Orbital’s Antares rocket.

I believe Aerojet has the right to put the AJ-26 engine (originally known as the Soviet NK-33) back into production if it chose to do so. Russia is using refurbished NK-33 engines in the first stage of its new Soyuz light launch vehicle, a stripped down version of the traditional Soyuz rocket set to make its maiden flight later this year. Eventually, it would need to put the NK-33 back into production if it wants to continue that program.

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