Bezos’ Blue Origin slams NASA over $2.9bn SpaceX contract

27 Apr 2021

Jeff Bezos. Image: George W Bush Centre/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The contract to build a lunar lander was awarded to Elon Musk’s company but NASA had originally committed to working with two companies.

Two of the richest men in the world are sparring over space travel.

Earlier this month, Elon Musk’s SpaceX won a $2.9bn contract from NASA to build a lunar lander that could carry people to the moon. The initiative, called Human Landing System (HLS), is part of efforts to return humans the moon by 2024.

Blue Origin, another commercial space company founded by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, has taken umbrage with the way that the contract was awarded.

NASA initially planned to award the contract to two companies, with SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics competing. But ultimately SpaceX was chosen as the sole winner of the contract.

Blue Origin has filed a lengthy complaint with the US Government Accountability Office to protest the contract award.

“NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System programme and moved the goalposts at the last minute,” Blue Origin said in a statement.

“Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers, America’s return to the moon.”

NASA originally had a higher budget to acquire lunar landers but its funding was revised by the US Congress, which may partially explain why the contract was issued to just one company.

Blue Origin said it wasn’t given an opportunity to revise its proposal to NASA after it learned of the funding shortfall.

Blue Origin’s chief executive Bob Smith told the New York Times that NASA should have honoured the promise to contract two companies. “It’s really atypical for NASA to make these kinds of errors,” he said.

NASA has yet to respond to the complaint but Musk, in typical fashion, responded on Twitter. “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol,” he tweeted.

Dynetics, the third company in the lunar lander bidding process, also filed its own complaint with the Government Accountability Office over the contract but has not commented.

NASA’s Human Landing System is an important cog in its Artemis programme, which aims to send astronauts to the moon and from there launch missions to Mars.

The dispute is evidence of the hotly contested market for commercial space travel companies as the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin duke it out for contracts to see whose tech and spacecraft will take the lead into the stars.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin