WASHINGTON — A federal judge has asked the U.S. Air Force and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to try mediation to resolve a lawsuit over the service’s $11 billion order of rockets from SpaceX-rival United Launch Alliance.

SpaceX filed the lawsuit April 28, asking the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to void a large portion of the deal, under which the Air Force ordered 36 rocket cores from ULA on a sole-source basis. The U.S. Department of Justice, representing the Air Force, has asked the court to dismiss the case.

But Judge Susan Braden on July 24 directed the two sides to explore a third alternative: mediation. As part of that process, she directed the Air Force to provide SpaceX with information by Aug. 18 on the missions in question to allow the company to determine which ones it could launch. She also ordered the service to explain to SpaceX how it plans to execute the block-buy contract with ULA during the next six months. 

At the same time, Braden asked SpaceX to provide, by Sept. 10, a list of proposed issues for mediation, potential mediators and a timetable. The Air Force will then have until Oct. 14 to determine whether SpaceX’s proposed terms for mediation are acceptable.

The Air Force is welcome to involve ULA in the mediation if it would lead to productive discussion, Braden said.

Meanwhile, Braden denied a motion from ULA to dismiss the lawsuit. ULA had argued that SpaceX waited too long to challenge the contract and thereby waived its legal standing to do so. 

But Braden said ULA “has no basis to challenge” SpaceX’s standing. She was silent on the Air Force’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which is based on a similar argument.

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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...