Sierra Nevada Files Suit To Reinstate Hold on NASA Commercial Crew Contracts

Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser
Sierra Nevada Corp. wants a federal court to reinstate a stop-work order on commercial crew contracts while the GAO evaluates a protest the company filed. The company is seeking a chance for its Dream Chaser vehicle (above) to be reconsidered in the competition. (Image credit: Sierra Nevada Corp.)

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 (SpaceX).

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.

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 injuction, was 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 has scheduled a hearing on the case for Friday morning (Oct. 17).

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Jeff Foust
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer

Jeff Foust is a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews, a space industry news magazine and website, where he writes about space policy, commercial spaceflight and other aerospace industry topics. Jeff has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in geophysics and planetary science from the California Institute of Technology. You can see Jeff's latest projects by following him on Twitter.