Blue Origin loses offer to land Artemis’ first astronauts on the moon

Blue Origin lost its months-long battle to be reconsidered for a contract with NASA to transport astronauts from the moon’s orbit to its surface.

Blue Origin’s lawsuit in the U.S. Federal Claims Tribunal challenged NASA’s selection of rival SpaceX – and only SpaceX – for the contract. U.S. Judge Richard A. Hertling dismissed Blue Origin’s lawsuit, saying the company was unlikely to win the case on the merits, according to a drafted opinion released Thursday. The judge said that even though the company’s claims were true, the Claims Court was not the appropriate venue for the remedies that Blue Origin was seeking.

NASA originally intended to select two companies to develop commercial human landing systems. He asked for $ 3.4 billion in fiscal 2021 to get there, but Congress only allocated $ 850 million for moon landers. This prompted NASA to select SpaceX’s $ 2.9 billion proposal; Blue Origin’s proposal was valued at around $ 6 billion and its milestone payments for fiscal 2021 were reportedly more than triple the agency’s $ 345 million budget.

The judge wrote that even though NASA’s assessment was “incorrect” or SpaceX’s proposal was not worthy, Blue Origin was unable to secure the contract due to lack of funding.

Blue Origin has argued in court documents that NASA has waived critical reviews of SpaceX and engaged in inappropriate and uneven discussions by only allowing SpaceX to revise its proposal. He claimed that all companies should have had the opportunity to revise their proposals after Congress allocated less money than NASA wanted. Blue Origin also claimed that NASA misjudged the technical ratings of the lunar landers and made the purchases in “an arbitrary, capricious and irrational manner.”

The judge said Blue Origin argued that it would have submitted an alternative proposal if it had known that NASA would waive certain requirements. Hertling called this proposal hypothetical and speculative.

“Blue Origin is in the position of any disappointed bidder: Oh. Is that what the agency wanted and liked the most? If we had known, we would rather have submitted a proposal that resembled the chosen offer, but we could have offered a better price and more interesting features and options ”, Hertling wrote in his opinion.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos tweeted on November 4, the day the court released a sealed version of the ruling, revealing on Thursday that it respected the court ruling and wished NASA “every success. and to SpaceX on the contract “.

This month’s decision ended a contentious period in which NASA and SpaceX were barred from collaborating on the human landing system – an ordeal that, combined with other issues, would make it impossible to reaching the moon in 2024, according to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“We’ve lost almost seven months in litigation,” Nelson said at a press conference last week, “and that probably pushed the first human landing to probably no earlier than 2025.”

In April 2020, NASA selected SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics to lead the development of human landing systems. NASA teams were incorporated into the companies as they refined their designs, and then each company submitted a proposal for the next phase of procurement. NASA was to move forward with two of the three companies.

According to court documents, NASA had the right to conduct post-selection negotiations or discussions, and it exercised that right to negotiate with SpaceX. The company’s proposed milestone payments for fiscal 2021 were a little above NASA’s $ 345 million threshold, but it wasn’t an insurmountable difference. SpaceX has adjusted its payment milestones to stay on budget, although it hasn’t reduced its overall price.

NASA awarded the human landing system contract to SpaceX in April. SpaceX plans to use the Starship spacecraft it is developing in South Texas to transport astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon’s surface. NASA’s Orion spacecraft will take astronauts to orbit the moon.

Blue Origin and Dynetics have challenged NASA’s decision to only work with SpaceX. Bezos also offered to forgo all payments in fiscal 2021 and the next two fiscal years up to $ 2 billion “to get the program back on track now.” He said the company was ready to accept a firm fixed price contract. Blue Origin would cover any system development cost overruns and protect NASA from partner cost escalation issues.

But the Government Accountability Office upheld NASA’s decision, prompting Blue Origin to file federal lawsuits. In this court, Blue Origin offered to increase its waived payments to more than $ 3 billion, but Hertling said this promised contribution was not presented to NASA before it awarded its prize.

“NASA had no obligation to ask Blue Origin to improve its proposal by absorbing costs or lowering the price,” he wrote in the notice.

Going forward, NASA has said it would like several companies to develop landers that could allow a steady pace of crewed trips to the moon. NASA announced in September five companies that would “make progress towards sustainable human landing system concepts, conduct risk reduction activities, and provide feedback on NASA’s requirements to develop industry capabilities to crewed lunar landing missions ”. These companies will ultimately help define the strategy and requirements for a future NASA solicitation to provide regular astronaut transport to the moon.

SpaceX and Blue Origin were among the five companies selected for this task.

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