For the first time since SpaceX competitor Blue Origin sued NASA in federal court after losing a moon lander contract with Starship and a protest against this loss, unsealed documents have finally revealed the argument that Jeff Bezos’ space startup is focusing on in court.
After details leaked in new court documents filed on Wednesday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to explain why the arguments Blue Origin based their lawsuit on make little sense. .
While a seemingly significant portion of the main complaint purporting to reveal “additional substantial errors” in SpaceX’s Starship HLS proposal has been almost entirely drafted, most of the opening argument is readable. In short, Blue Origin appears to have abandoned the vast majority of the arguments it made before suing NASA and the U.S. government and now relies almost exclusively on the claim that SpaceX violated the supply process of the NASA ignoring a specific type. pre-launch review prior to each HLS-related ship launch.
For NASA’s HLS competition, SpaceX offered to create a custom variant of Starship capable of serving as a single-stage lunar lander in orbit with help from the rest of the Starship fleet – including Super Heavy boosters, Starships cargo / tankers, and a depot or storage vessel. SpaceX would begin a moon landing campaign by launching a (probably heavily modified) depot spacecraft into stable Earth orbit. From 8 to 14 Starship tanker missions – each carrying around 100 to 150 tonnes of propellant – would then gradually fill this depot ship over a period of no more than about six months. When filled, an HLS lander would launch into orbit, fill its tanks from the depot ship, and head into an eccentric lunar orbit to meet NASA’s Orion spacecraft and three Artemis astronauts.
As Blue Origin has exhaustively reminded anyone within earshot over the past five months, SpaceX’s Starship Moon lander proposal is extremely complex and NASA is taking an undeniable risk (of delays, not for them. astronauts) by choosing SpaceX. Nonetheless, NASA’s Kathy Lueders and a source assessment panel made it clear in the public selection statement that SpaceX’s proposal was by far the most competent, offering a far superior management approach and no worse than technical risk. Blue Origin’s much smaller and drastically less capable lander. .
The gist of Blue Origin’s argument seems to be that its National Team Lander proposal was radically disadvantaged by whether or not SpaceX may or may not have incorrectly scheduled only three “flight readiness exams” (FRRs) for each 16-launch HLS Starship mission. Although heavily drafted, Blue Origin wants a judge to believe that unlike the United States Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) fair assessment that such a small issue is extremely unlikely to have changed the outcome of the competition. , he would have “been able to offer a significantly lower price” for his lander. To be clear, a flight readiness exam is admittedly an important part of NASA’s safety culture, but it ultimately comes down to count paperwork and double checks over the course of a day or two of meetings.
All other things being equal, the need to complete a FRR before a launch is extremely unlikely to cause more than a few days of delay in the worst case and would have virtually no impact on costs. There is no reasonable way to claim that being allowed to perform certain FRR-free launches alone would have allowed Blue Origin to “”[engineer] and [propose] a totally different architecture. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what the company is trying to argue – that it would have drastically and completely changed the conception it spent more than half a billion dollars to sketch if it hadn’t been able to ignore a few criticisms. .
Curiously, Blue Origin remains nonetheless Is make some coherent and seemingly fact-based arguments in the document. Perhaps most notably, he claims that when NASA finally concluded that it did not have funds for one price (a known fact) and asked SpaceX – its first choice – to make slight changes to the contract to make the financial side of things work, NASA has deliberately chosen to forgo the need for an FRR before every HLS spacecraft launch. According to Blue Origin, it was only thanks to the alleged cost savings resulting from these reviews that NASA was able to afford SpaceX’s proposal – which, it should be noted, was more than half the price of the next option. the cheapest (Blue Origin).
In the end, it therefore appears that Blue Origin may have arguments to argue that NASA awarded SpaceX the HLS Option A contract despite a handful of mistakes that violated procurement rules and HLS solicitation. Compared to just about any other possible issue, however, it’s hard not to perceive issues that Blue Origin may or may have correctly reported as more than marginal and extremely unlikely to have changed the outcome. in favor of Blue if they had been rectified before the award. . More importantly, although Blue Origin’s argument is somehow received favorably and a judge orders NASA to cancel its SpaceX HLS award and reconsider all three proposals, it is practically inconceivable that even this better result would result in Blue Origin being awarded a contract of any kind.