NASA halts SpaceX work on the Lunar Lander amid protest against blue origin

Artistic design of SpaceX's lander on the lunar surface.

Artistic design of SpaceX’s lander on the lunar surface.
Drawing: SpaceX

NASA has suspended SpaceX’s work on its Lunar lander $ 2.9 billion to send astronauts back to the moon because of protests filed by Blue Origin and Dynetics, the companies the space agency did not choose to build its lunar lander.

NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt said on Friday that she issued a brief statement announcing the hiatus and said she would stay until the Government Accountability Office resolves market-related complaints, according to Engadget. GAO has until August 4, at the latest, to make a decision on the challenges presented by Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and defense contractor Dynetics.

“On April 26, NASA was informed that the Blue Origin Federation and Dynetics have filed protests against the choice of the Option A human landing system with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO),” Witt said. “Following protests from GAO, NASA informed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding disputes related to this market. NASA cannot provide further comments due to the ongoing litigation. ”

Gizmodo contacted NASA to confirm Witt’s statement on Saturday but had not received a response at the time of publication. A request for comment from SpaceX was also not immediately returned. We will update this blog if we have any news.

The NASA-ordered break on SpaceX’s work on the lunar lander, for which it will use its Starship launch system, means SpaceX will not immediately receive the first installment of the $ 2.9 billion reward, The Verge reported. The company will also not begin the initial talks with NASA that are customary at the start of a major contract.

Nonetheless, given that SpaceX plans to use Starship to transport cargo and crew to Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars, the company is likely to continue its development on Starship, The Verge noted. Earlier this week, the Federal Aviation Administration said he had authorized the next three launches of the Starship prototype. Several Starship prototypes have performed high altitude flights, but to date all flights have ended in explosions.

In his complaint filed on Monday, Blue Origin alleged that NASA had “executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute.” First, the company says NASA has indicated its intention to award two awards for its lunar landing system, but has changed its mind due to “perceived shortcomings” in its current and future budget. According to Blue Origin, going as a sole source threatens to eliminate competition in this area.

But that’s not all. Among other perceived slights, Blue Origin is also screaming scandal over the price of the lunar lander. The company gave NASA a price tag of $ 5.99 billion, more than double the price of SpaceX. however, the company declares that NASA allowed SpaceX to revise its price but did not give Blue Origin and Dynetics the same opportunity.

Dynetic, which also filed his complaint Monday, argues that NASA should have revised its approach to the lunar lander or withdrawn the solicitation once it knew it had no funding to support two companies, SpaceNews reported. Instead, NASA decided to go with “the most anti-competitive and risky option available.”

NASA’s move essentially makes SpaceX its supplier of lunar landers for the foreseeable future, Dynetics said, according to SpaceNews. The company also criticized NASA’s analysis of SpaceX’s technical approach.

“NASA did not take into account the risks inherent in SpaceX’s technical approach and, more specifically, information too close for NASA to ignore, that is, four SpaceX spacecraft have exploded at various stages of their test flights in recent months, ”Dynetics said in the complaint. “NASA has given SpaceX a pass on its obvious lack of engineering of these systems.”

The company is right. Blue Origin appeared to be the leader in the bidding process, and its choice for a lunar lander was seen as sensitive and safe. SpaceX must prove that its Starship approach, which includes refueling a rocket in space and landing a rocket vertically on the lunar surface, among other things, is possible. None of these things have ever been done before. He must also prevent his ships from exploding.

NASA’s current plan is to send two astronauts – a man and a woman – to the lunar surface in 2024.

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