Federal judge denies Blue Origin’s protest of NASA moon contract awarded to SpaceX

This is an illustration provided by SpaceX shows the SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry the first NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. Jeff Bezos has lost his appeal of NASA's contract with Elon Musk's SpaceX to build its new moon lander. The Government Accountability Office Friday, July 30, 2021 ruled that NASA's award of the $2.9 billion contract to just SpaceX was legal and proper.(SpaceX/NASA via AP) (Uncredited)

A federal judge has denied Blue Origin’s protest of a multibillion-dollar NASA moon lander contract awarded to SpaceX earlier this year, the agency confirmed Thursday.

According to News 6 partner Florida Today, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled against Blue Origin’s lawsuit, which took issue with NASA’s selection of only SpaceX for developing hardware that will take Artemis program astronauts from lunar orbit down to the surface. SpaceX’s Starship program was chosen in April to receive $2.9 billion and develop a lunar-specific model.

The denial “upholds NASA’s selection of SpaceX to develop and demonstrate a modern human lunar lander,” the agency said in a release. “NASA will resume work with SpaceX under the Option A contract as soon as possible.”

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Blue’s submission to the Human Landing System program, priced around $6 billion, was nearly double that of SpaceX’s entry. Dynetics submitted its own design as well, but also was not chosen. NASA said it would have preferred two providers – SpaceX and Blue Origin – but budgets provided by Congress weren’t robust enough to afford funding more than one vehicle.

In a statement provided to FLORIDA TODAY, Blue Origin said the HLS program’s procurement process still has flaws that need to be worked out.

“Our lawsuit with the Court of Federal Claims highlighted the important safety issues with the Human Landing System procurement process that must still be addressed,” the statement reads. “Returning astronauts safely to the Moon through NASA’s public-private partnership model requires an unprejudiced procurement process alongside sound policy that incorporates redundant systems and promotes competition.”

“We look forward to hearing from NASA on next steps in the HLS procurement process,” the company said.

On Twitter, meanwhile, Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos made it clear his company would not attempt to appeal the decision for now.

“Not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract,” Bezos said.

The HLS program is strictly for the vehicle that will take astronauts from lunar orbit down to the surface. NASA still plans on using its Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule to launch from Kennedy Space Center, then transfer over to a Starship that will be waiting near the moon.

In its statement, NASA did say there will be more opportunities for private companies to work with the agency and potentially win contracts. Officials hope to put the first woman and person of color on the lunar surface by 2024, but that timeline is unlikely according to analyses by the agency’s own inspector general.

“There will be forthcoming opportunities for companies to partner with NASA in establishing a long-term human presence at the moon under the agency’s Artemis program, including a call in 2022 to U.S. industry for recurring crewed lunar landing services,” NASA said.