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SNC's Dream Chaser. Credit: SNC video capture

UPDATED Oct. 20 at 10:24 a.m EDT

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — In the latest round in the legal dispute regarding NASA’s commercial crew contracts, Sierra Nevada Corp. filed suit in federal court Oct. 15, seeking to overturn a NASA decision to lift a stop-work order on contracts it awarded to two other companies.

In filings with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, Sierra Nevada filed requests for both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to overturn a NASA decision Oct. 9 lifting an order stopping work on Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded Sept. 16 to Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

NASA had issued a stop-work order shortly after Sierra Nevada filed a protest regarding the CCtCap awards with the U.S. Government Accountability Office Sept. 26. On Oct. 9, NASA lifted the order, citing “statutory authority available to it” in order to keep the program on schedule.

Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president for Sierra Nevada Space Systems, said in an interview at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M., Oct. 16 that the company went to court to keep NASA from getting too far ahead on the CCtCap contracts while the GAO reviews its protest. “We want to protect our interests,” he said.

NASA justified the decision by warning that any delay in carrying out the contracts “poses risks” to the international space station crew and could jeopardize operations of the station. “NASA has determined that it best serves the United States to continue performance of the CCtCap contracts,” the agency said in a statement posted on the commercial crew program website.

Sierra Nevada, in its court filings, argued that NASA had not made the case that the stop-work order should be lifted, and that it should therefore be reinstated while the GAO protest continues.

“NASA’s override is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and is contrary to law,” Rogers Joseph O’Donnell, the law firm representing Sierra Nevada, argued in its request for an injunction. “The override constitutes NASA’s unreasonable decision unnecessarily and unjustifiably to direct the awardees to proceed with contract performance.”

Sierra Nevada’s full complaint, filed with the court along with the request for the restraining order and preliminary injunction, were not immediately available. The company requested that the complaint be filed under protective seal since it contains information subject to a protective order in the ongoing GAO protest.

The Court of Federal Claims was scheduled to hear Sierra Nevada’s request Oct. 17. Sirangelo said it might be several days before the court issues a ruling.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...