SpaceX Loses Lawsuit Against U.S. Air Force Over Starship Funding

Starship lifts off on a point to point flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A federal judge had denied SpaceX’s claim that the U.S. Air Force should have provided development funding for its Starship booster, according to media reports.

USAF awarded $2.2 billion in contracts in October 2918 to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to help the companies develop new rockets to launch national security payloads. SpaceX’s proposal for Starship funding was rejected.

U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright II said the Air Force’s conclusion that Starship was too risky and expensive for its needs was not arbitrary, capricious or in violation of the law, Reuters reports.

Wright’s Sept. 24 order contained information about the Air Force’s concerns about SpaceX’s proposal, Reuters said.

According to the order, part of SpaceX’s pitch to the Air Force included a previously unreported less-reusable version of Starship whose upper stage would not return to Earth after delivering a payload into orbit – a “substantial” design change to the rocket’s fully reusable architecture that the Air Force considered too complex of a challenge.

The order was briefly posted online last month before being sealed because it contained sensitive information. SpaceX was given a week to provide objections that might change the decision. The judge entered a final order to dismiss the case on Friday.

The Air Force provided the development funding in advance of a competition to launch defense payloads from 2022 to 2027. SpaceX and ULA won multi-billion launch contracts in August.

SpaceX will use its existing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters. ULA will use its Vulcan rocket, which is now in development, with the company’s existing Atlas V launch vehicle as a backup.

The Air Force rejected bids from Blue Origin to use its New Glenn booster and from Northrop Grumman to fly payloads on the company’s OmegA rocket. Neither rocket had yet flown.

Blue Origin, which earlier challenged the Air Force’s plan to award only two launch contracts, is continuing to develop New Glenn. Northrop Grumman has canceled the OmegA program.

Starship prototypes are undergoing testing at SpaceX’s facility at Boca Chica Beach in south Texas. The company plans to use the rocket to launch satellites, send cargo and people to the moon and Mars, and provide point to point transportation between distant cities on Earth.