Orbital Sues ULA Over RD-180 Engine, Asks for at Least $515 Million

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket is seen as it launches from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Sunday, April 21, 2013. The test launch marked the first flight of Antares and the first rocket launch from Pad-0A. The Antares rocket delivered the equivalent mass of a spacecraft, a so-called mass simulated payload, into Earth's orbit. Photo (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket on its maiden launch on April 21, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Orbital Sciences Corporation has sued ULA seeking damages of between $515 million to $1.5 billion for blocking sales of the Russian-built RD-180 that Orbital wants to use in its Antares launch vehicle, Space News reports.

Orbital of Dulles, Va., claims Denver-based ULA has not only illegally prevented open-market sale of the RD-180, but also has monopolized the launch-services market for certain satellites in violation of U.S. antitrust laws, according to a complaint filed June 20 with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria.

Orbital wants a federal judge to strike down an exclusivity agreement ULA has with its engine supplier, RD AMROSS, and to force ULA to pay Orbital at least $515 million — and potentially more than $1.5 billion — for damages arising from ULA’s alleged monopolization of “launch systems and services used for medium-class payload missions,” according to court papers. Orbital wants the case to go before a jury.

The suit marks an escalation in Orbital’s spat with ULA over the Russian-made RD-180 engine, which is imported to the United States. by a company called RD AMROSS, a joint venture of United Technologies Corp. of Hartford, Conn., and NPO Energomash of Moscow, which manufactures the engine. United Technologies Corp.’s recently divested rocket propulsion division is the original U.S. partner in RD AMROSS, but the joint venture has not yet conveyed as part of that transaction….

Because of an exclusivity agreement forged decades ago with Lockheed Martin, one of ULA’s two parent companies along with Boeing Co., RD AMROSS is only permitted to sell the RD-180 to ULA. Lockheed Martin, which needed a main engine for its new line of Atlas rockets, helped fund the RD-180’s development.

Orbital is currently using 40-year old AJ-26 (a.k.a., NK-33) engines left over from the Soviet Union’s abandoned 1970’s effort to send cosmonauts to the moon. Aerojet Rocketdyne has been refurbishing the engines for use on Antares.

Orbital is concerned about the limited supply of the engines as well as corrosion that has occurred over the past four decades. Aerojet Rocketdyne says it has an agreement with a Russian company to restart production on the engines if Orbital will sign a contract to do so.