SSO-A Falcon 9 launch
After launching 64 satellites on a dedicated Falcon 9 mission last December, Spaceflight says it plans to take a more flexible approach, launching smaller numbers of satellites at a time on more launches. Credit: SpaceX

ARCADIA, Calif. — SpaceX filed a bid protest in federal court against the government May 17, but most details about the protest, including the specific award being protested, remain undisclosed.

SpaceX filed the complaint with the Court of Federal Claims, but requested that the details of the complaint be kept under seal. Even the specific agency is not listed in the case, with the defendant in the case listed as only the USA.

“SpaceX states that the Bid Protest Complaint and accompanying exhibits contain SpaceX confidential and proprietary information and source selection information not appropriate for release to the public,” the company said in a motion requesting that the complaint be kept under seal, a common measure for such cases. “The proceedings in this matter will involve SpaceX’s proprietary proposal information and source selection information that must be protected to safeguard the competitive process.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment about the case, first reported by GeekWire.

The Court of Federal Claims is an alternative mechanism for adjudicating bid protests to the Government Accountability Office, but one used far less often than the GAO. A 2018 report by the RAND Corporation about Defense Department bid protests identified 475 cases that went to the court over an eight-year period, versus nearly 11,500 handled by the GAO.

SpaceX filed a bid protest in February with the GAO for the NASA award of a contract to United Launch Alliance for the Lucy planetary science mission. The company argued it offered NASA “a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower” than the $148.3 million value of the ULA contract.

However, SpaceX withdrew the protest April 4, according to the GAO’s bid protest docket. The company declined at the time to comment on the withdrawal.

ULA also received a contract modification from the U.S. Air Force May 9 for a Delta 4 Heavy launch of the NROL-68 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, part of a three-launch contract sole-sourced to ULA last October. The Air Force said it determined that the Delta 4 Heavy was the only vehicle that met the requirements for those missions, including unique handling at the launch site and mission-unique hardware.

A protest filed with the Court of Federal Claims can take considerably longer to resolve than one filed with the GAO. According to the RAND study, the average GAO protest was closed in 41 days, with a deadline of 100 days. There are no deadlines for protests in the Court of Federal Claims, where the RAND study found the average case to be closed in 133 days.

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...