In a pair of orders issued Thursday, a federal court judge pushed SpaceX and the US Air Force to resolve the ongoing lawsuit over the EELV block buy contract through mediation rather than in the courtroom.
In the first order, Judge Susan Braden directed the Air Force and SpaceX to take the first steps towards mediation. By August 8, The Air Force must provide to SpaceX a list of missions it plans to perform using the vehicles acquired in the block buy contract “together with sufficient technical information to allow Plaintiff to determine whether and when it can perform those missions.”
SpaceX, by September 10, will submit a list of issues that it will seek to resolve through mediation as well as other issues involved with mediation, including a proposed mediator and schedule for the mediation process. The Air Force must respond by October 14. “To facilitate the good faith efforts of the Government and Plaintiff to undertake these initial steps in a mediation process, all parties are ordered to decline to comment in the press about the substance or assignments set forth herein,” the order states.
In a second order, largely dealing with the “administrative record” of the case, Judge Braden threw out a motion by United Launch Alliance (ULA), the “defendent-intervenor” in the case, to dismiss the SpaceX suit. That decision, though, was not based on the merits of ULA’s arguments in its motion, but because the court concluded ULA had no standing to request a dismissal. “The Defendant-Intervenor has no basis to challenge Plaintiff’s standing in this case, as all relevant evidence is within the custody and control of the Plaintiff and/or Government.”
The decision was considered a victory for SpaceX in many media reports, although it may be more accurate to consider it not a defeat. The court has not thrown out the SpaceX suit, although it hasn’t ruled on the Air Force’s motion to dismiss. (The fact that Judge Braden is setting up a mediation process suggests she will not rule on that motion while mediation is ongoing.) SpaceX has hinted in the past that it would be open to some kind of settlement in its suit, but has been vague on what it would accept.