California judge ends SpaceX’s lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force

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The judge said the Air Force's actions were "not arbitrary, capricious, or in violation of the law, and that SpaceX was not entitled to any relief in this action.”

WASHINGTON —  SpaceX’s protest of rocket development contracts the U.S. Air Force awarded to three rivals in 2018 has been rejected by a U.S. District Court judge.

Judge Otis D. Wright II, of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, released a two-page filing Oct. 2 showing that SpaceX, its rivals and the government have signed off on the court’s sealed Sept. 24 ruling that SpaceX’s protest lacked merit. SpaceX challenged the Air Force over contracts the service awarded in October 2018 to United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin.

A so-called joint response filing, signed by attorneys representing SpaceX, its rivals and the U.S. Air Force, says the judge ruled against SpaceX on Sept. 24, “concluding that the Air Force’s actions were not arbitrary, capricious, or in violation of the law, and that SpaceX was not entitled to any relief in this action.”

The Sept. 24 ruling, first reported by Reuters, was sealed by the court because it contained sensitive information.

SpaceX first filed the complaint May 17, 2019, with the Court of Federal Claims. The company argued that the Air Force gave an unfair advantage to the other companies by awarding them Launch Service Agreements and excluding SpaceX. 

After the Court of Federal Claims ruled that it lacked jurisdiction, the case was transferred in August 2019 to the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California.

The Air Force awarded Launch Service Agreements contracts to Blue Origin ($500 million), United Launch Alliance ($967 million) and Northrop Grumman ($762 million) to help the companies defray the costs of developing new rockets and infrastructure as they competed for a launch service procurement contract. 

SpaceX’s proposal for a Launch Service Agreement contract was to leverage its Starship space exploration vehicle to launch the military’s heaviest payloads. The Air Force denied SpaceX an LSA award. On Aug. 7, the Air Force selected ULA and SpaceX as the winners of the launch service procurement competition.