In a surprise move, the Russian government is attempting to limit the Pentagon's ability to send satellites into space, cutting off the U.S. military's access to the engine it uses for many of its launches.
The cutoff, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Tuesday, is a response to U.S. sanctions, which have limited sales of some key space-technology items to Russia. While Russia won't restrict the U.S. from buying the RD-180 engine altogether, sales will be limited to nonmilitary launches.
The RD-180 engine is used in Atlas V rockets, which ferry many of the Pentagon's satellites into orbit. The Atlas V is one of two rockets used by the United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing collaboration that currently sends all military satellites into space.
ULA also uses a Delta class of rockets — which don't rely on the RD-180 — to launch a variety of payloads.
The military launch program has been in the spotlight of late, as rocket newcomer SpaceX has argued it deserves a better shot to compete for military launches. The Air Force's next five-year block buy allots 36 launches to ULA, with just seven set aside for competitive bidding (that number was originally set at 14).
In response, SpaceX sued the Air Force, calling the process unfair. CEO Elon Musk also asserted that ULA's purchase of Russian rockets could benefit Rogozin, who heads the company's defense industry and is on President Obama's list of sanctioned leaders.