ULA Antitrust Probe : FTC Launches Probe Into Lockheed-Boeing Rocket Venture. The Federal Trade Commission has opened an antitrust investigation into a joint venture between The Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. that launches U.S. government satellites into space, the company confirmed Thursday.
The FTC is conducting an antitrust probe of United Launch Alliance LLC, a Centennial, Colo.-based joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed, which launches rockets carrying U.S. government satellites into space, company spokeswoman Jessica Rye told Law360 on Thursday.
An April 22 memo from FTC Secretary Donald S. Hall authorized investigators to use “any and all compulsory processes available” to determine whether ULA, RD AMROSS or any of their joint venture partners violated antitrust laws “by monopolizing, attempting to monopolize, or otherwise restraining competition in the provision of space launch services, including entering or maintaining an exclusive agreement relating to the supply of propulsion systems for space launch services.”
FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz declined to comment. News of the FTC investigation was first reported by Reuters.
A complicating factor is the fact that engine maker Aerojet, which supplies the Russian-built AJ-26 engine currently used for Antares, which successfully debuted earlier this year, has just been cleared by the FTC to buy domestic rival Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a partner in RD AMROSS along with RSC Energomash of Moscow. The merger, approved with reservations June 10 by the FTC, leaves the United States with just one merchant supplier of liquid-fueled rocket engines.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense is seeking to nurture competition in the lucrative market for launching national security payloads, which currently is the near-exclusive province of Denver-based ULA, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture. Seeking to put its launch manifest for roughly the next decade under contract, the Pentagon recently approved plans to order up to 36 rocket cores from ULA on a sole-source basis while setting aside 14 missions for competition, presumably giving newcomers like Orbital and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) a crack at the market.
ULA’s relationship with RD AMROSS dates back to the early to mid-1990s, when Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin helped fund the RD-180’s development for its new line of Atlas rockets. Lockheed Martin and Chicago-based Boeing merged their competing rocket businesses in 2006, creating a virtual monopoly in the U.S. government launch market over the objections of prospective new market entrants like SpaceX and Orbital. The rationale for allowing the merger was that the U.S. government market for launching large satellites was not big enough to support two competitors following the late 1990s collapse of the commercial market.