A week after Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against NASA over its decision to award SpaceX a nearly $3 billion moon contract the space agency says it is voluntarily pausing work on the human lunar landing system until the legal matter is resolved.
Blue Origin’s lawsuit filed in U.S. Court of Federal Claims marks the latest escalation in a dispute between Jeff Bezos’ company and the world’s leading space agency over a key Artemis program contract.
NASA awarded SpaceX’s Starship spaceship the first human landing system contract in April for $2.94 billion. SpaceX has been developing and testing Starship in Texas with plans for orbital flights in the coming months and has continued to do so on its own dime despite the delays due to Blue Origin’s contract dispute.
Soon after the contract announcement, two of SpaceX’s competitors for the contract — Blue Origin and Dynetics — submitted bid protests to the Government Accountability Office arguing NASA should have selected more than one vehicle for the job. On July 30, the GAO dismissed both protests clearing the way for NASA to continue working with SpaceX to send the first astronauts back to the moon in 50 years.
But now, NASA has paused work with SpaceX to resolve the legal matter.
NASA confirmed the decision in a statement Thursday evening:
NASA has voluntarily paused work with SpaceX for the human landing system (HLS) Option A contract effective Aug. 19 through Nov. 1. In exchange for this temporary stay of work, all parties agreed to an expedited litigation schedule that concludes on Nov. 1. NASA officials are continuing to work with the Department of Justice to review the details of the case and look forward to a timely resolution of this matter.
NASA is committed to Artemis and to maintaining the nation’s global leadership in space exploration. With our partners, we will go to the Moon and stay to enable science investigations, develop new technology, and create high paying jobs for the greater good and in preparation to send astronauts to Mars.
The legal dispute is yet another delay for NASA’s Artemis program with the goal of returning humans to the moon in the next three years.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson acknowledged to reporters last month the protests had slowed the human lander development but could not comment further as the protests were still under review.
“We’ve lost some time because there is this a dispute that is going to be reconciled by the General Accounting Office and that should be coming next week,” Nelson said before the GAO ruling had come down.
At this rate, it’s possible work on the first human moon landing system since the Apollo missions won’t resume until late this fall.