Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office against NASA on Monday, challenging the space agency’s award of a nearly $ 3 billion lunar lander contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX more early this month.
SpaceX, in a competition against Blue Origin and Leidos affiliate Dynetics, received $ 2.89 billion for NASA’s Human Landing System program. The HLS program is focused on building a lunar lander capable of transporting astronauts to the moon’s surface as part of NASA’s Artemis missions. For HLS, SpaceX offered a variant of its Starship rocket, prototypes of which the company has tested at its facilities in Texas.
NASA previously had to choose two of the three teams to build lunar landers competitively, making SpaceX’s sole selection a surprise given the agency’s earlier goals for the program to continue to be a competition.
Blue Origin decried the award as “flawed” in a statement to CNBC, saying NASA “moved the goalposts at the last minute.”
“In NASA’s own words, it made a ‘high risk’ selection. Their decision eliminates competitive opportunities, drastically reduces the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers the return of l “America on the Moon. For this reason, we filed a protest with the GAO,” Blue Origin said.
Blue Origin revealed that NASA valued the company’s HLS proposal at $ 5.99 billion, roughly double that of SpaceX. The company argued in its protest filing that the cost of funding the two proposals by NASA would have been less than $ 9 billion – close to what the agency spent on SpaceX and Boeing to develop capsules of competing astronauts in the Commercial Crew program.
“By not keeping two sources … NASA’s selection decision creates a number of problems for the HLS program and puts all NASA eggs in one basket,” Blue Origin wrote at the protest.
The New York Times first reported Blue Origin GAO protest.
The Blue Origin protest
Blue Origin based its protest around five objections.
First, Bezos’ company said NASA did not give SpaceX’s competitors an opportunity to “compete meaningfully” after “the agency’s requirements changed due to its perceived lack of funding and not disclosed “for the HLS program.
Second and third, Blue Origin said the NASA acquisition was flawed under the agency’s acquisition rules and its assessment of the company’s proposal “unreasonable”. Fourth, the company claimed that NASA had “incorrectly and disparately” assessed SpaceX’s proposal. Finally, Blue Origin said NASA’s assessment of proposals changed the weight it gave to key criteria, making price “the most important factor due to perceived funding limitations.”
The company highlighted work done to develop its lunar lander, including an undisclosed amount of its own investment in the BE-7 rocket engine it planned to use for the spacecraft.
“Blue Origin’s substantial business investment in the BE-7 engine program is direct evidence of its corporate commitment to lunar exploration,” the company wrote at the GAO protest.
The prototype SN10 spacecraft rocket stands on the launch pad at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas plant.
The space agency announced the SpaceX contract on April 16, with a source selection document written by director of human spaceflight Kathy Lueders outlining the reasons for its decision by NASA.
NASA based its selection on three main factors: technical capacity, price, then management rating. SpaceX and Blue Origin both received “acceptable” technical ratings, with SpaceX’s lowest price “by far” and its management rating was “outstanding” – while Blue Origin’s management was rated “very good.” “, the same as Dynetics.
Notably, the NASA selection committee said it had found “two examples of advance payments proposed in Blue Origin’s proposal.”
“I agree with … the assessment that these kick-off meeting payments violate the solicitation instructions and render Blue Origin’s proposal ineligible for award,” Lueders wrote.
NASA requested $ 3.4 billion for the HLS program in fiscal 2021, but Congress only approved $ 850 million. In light of this lower than expected funding, Lueders conceded that choosing a single business proposal for the HLS program was “not NASA’s optimal outcome,” but within the agency’s procurement rules. .
“It has now been almost half a century since humans have been on the moon. It is too long, we have to go back and have a permanent base on the moon – again, like a large permanently occupied base on the moon. moon, ”Musk said. .