Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' spaceflight venture Blue Origin, has lost its lawsuit against NASA for a contract to construct the next lunar lander. Blue Origin's long-running quest for government funding to build its lander, Blue Moon, has been ended by the judgment.
Judge Richard Hertling was in charge of the federal court case and issued a brief ruling today. He noted that Blue Origins' motion for judgment had been denied. This opinion has not yet been made public. Before the opinion is made public, all parties will be able to suggest which parts they would like removed.
Blue Origin had been hoping to get involved in NASA's ambitious plan to send humans back to the Moon. This is known as the Artemis program. NASA has teamed up with other companies in the space sector to develop rockets and spacecraft to help the first woman and first person of color to reach the lunar surface. The private construction of a lunar lander capable of safely transporting people to the lunar dirt is an important part.
NASA surprised everyone when it awarded only one contract to SpaceX
NASA had previously hinted publicly that it would choose two companies to build the lunar lander before it issued contracts. This was in order to ensure redundancy and competition. Three finalist companies were selected by NASA, which included Blue Origin, SpaceX and Dynetics. In April, NASA shocked everyone by awarding only one contract to SpaceX. This was to help develop its Starship spacecraft.
We were not happy with the outcome, but we are respectful of the court's decision and wish NASA and SpaceX all the success in fulfilling their contract. pic.twitter.com/BeXc4A8YaW Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) November 4, 2021
NASA said that it chose one company over two because of a lack in funding for its lunar landing program. NASA had asked for $3.2 billion to fund its human lunar landing program, but Congress gave NASA only $850 million. This is less than half of what NASA had expected. NASA is trying to reach the lunar surface by 2024. This ambitious goal seems impossible due to the budget deficit. NASA chose to stay with the company offering the lowest cost option due to lack of funding. Blue Origin asked for $5.9 billion to fund its Blue Moon concept.
Blue Origin pulled all the stops in an attempt to reverse the decision
Blue Origin has tried to reverse the decision after losing the contract. Blue Origin initially protested to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), but ultimately the GAO denied Blue Origins request. Dynetics also protested. According to the statement of the offices, the GAO claimed that NASA had the right to award multiple awards, one award or none at all.
Bezos then wrote to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson this summer proposing to build Blue Moon at a discount $2 billion over the next 2 years to cover the funding gap. This would have been Bezos, who is currently second in wealth. NASA was not influenced by the offer. Blue Origin filed a federal lawsuit to get the decision reversed as a last-ditch effort.
NASA claimed that Blue Origin had made a mistake in its bid for the lunar landing program. It lost. The company assumed that the Agency's [lunar landing] budget would be available, so it prepared its proposal accordingly. It also made a calculated wager that, if NASA couldn't afford Blue Origins initial price, NASA would award Blue Origin and engage in post-selection negotiation to lower Blue Origin's price. These assumptions were false, NASA lawyers wrote in legal filings dated May 26, which The Verge obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request.
NASA responded to today's ruling by stating that there will be future opportunities for companies to participate in the Artemis program. NASA stated in a statement to The Verge that NASA is continuing to work with American companies to increase competition and commercial readiness for crewed transport to the moon's surface. NASA will offer companies the opportunity to partner with them in the establishment of a long-term human presence on the Moon. This includes a call to U.S. industries in 2022 for crewed lunar landing services.
Blue Origins and the GAO protested with each other, which led to a temporary suspension of NASA's contract with SpaceX. NASA has announced that SpaceX's contract will allow them to resume work now that the final decision is made. Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, joked about the ruling on Twitter.
Blue Origin responded to today's ruling by stating that it is looking forward to working with NASA on future contracts. In an email statement, Blue Origin stated that it will continue to work with NASA on future contracts. The Court of Federal Claims lawsuit highlighted important safety concerns with the Human Landing System procurement process. NASA's public-private partnership model for returning astronauts to the Moon safely requires a transparent procurement process and sound policies that include redundant systems and encourage competition. Blue Origin is committed to the success and longevity of the Artemis program. We have multiple contracts with NASA that allow us to continue our work towards the United States goal of returning to the Moon.
Bezos also commented, saying that the decision was not what we wanted but that we respected the court's decision and wished NASA and SpaceX all the success.
It is possible that NASA may award future contracts to Blue Origin or Dynetics depending on how much funding it receives. Jim Bridenstine, a former NASA Administrator, testified before Congress that he believes the agency should have at most two lunar lander providers. In October, the Senate Appropriation Committees proposed budget bill for NASA would direct NASA to choose a second provider.
Administrator Nelson requested $5.4 billion more for NASA's human lunar lander programme. This was in order to get the money through President Biden's infrastructure policy. According to Space News, I believe that NASA will be able to access the funds it requires after all the screaming and pushing, which has little to do with NASA. The latest version of Biden's Build Back Better Act would provide NASA an additional $1.1 billion. This is mainly for the purpose of modernizing and repairing the agency's infrastructure and facilities.
Updated November 4, 1:30 PM ET: This article has been updated to include information and statements from NASA as well as a statement by Jeff Bezos.