Blue Origin ramps up space fight, suing NASA over SpaceX contract

17 Aug 2021

Image: © swisshippo/Stock.adobe.com

Jeff Bezos’ space company is continuing to pursue NASA over its decision to select SpaceX for developing a human landing system.

Blue Origin has filed a suit with the US Court of Federal Claims over NASA awarding a $2.9bn contract to SpaceX to build a lunar lander for the upcoming Artemis programme.

“This bid protest challenges NASA’s unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals,” Blue Origin lawyers wrote in a court filing.

It follows a denial of protests from Blue Origin sent to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO upheld NASA’s decision from earlier this year to select SpaceX for developing a human landing system. This system would be used in the Artemis programme – NASA’s plan to get humanity back on the moon.

“Importantly, the GAO’s decision will allow NASA and SpaceX to establish a timeline for the first crewed landing on the moon in more than 50 years,” wrote NASA after being notified of the GAO news on 30 July.

The controversy began in April when NASA revised its plans to award the contract to two companies for the development of its lunar landing system. This was intended to create competition alongside providing an alternative if one company should fall behind. But SpaceX was chosen as the sole winner after funding was revised by the US Congress.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos criticised the decision, claiming SpaceX was given the opportunity to revise its proposal under the new funding circumstances while Blue Origin was not.

“That was a mistake, it was unusual, and it was a missed opportunity. But it is not too late to remedy”, Bezos wrote in an open letter to NASA administrator Bill Nelson on 26 July. “We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and solve its budgetary constraints and put the Artemis programme back on a more competitive, credible and sustainable path.”

This letter included an offer to waive all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years by as much as $2bn if Blue Origin was awarded the contract, claiming “this offer provides time for government appropriation actions to catch up”.

In response to Blue Origin’s lawsuit, NASA told Reuters that “officials are currently reviewing details of the case”.

Sam Cox is a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news

editorial@siliconrepublic.com