Earlier this month, NASA announced that it had chosen SpaceX’s Starship as the human landing system (HLS) for the upcoming Artemis program. In a few years, astronauts could return to the moon for the first time in decades, and they’ll be stepping off a SpaceX vessel when they do it…unless Blue Origin gets its way. The private spaceflight firm founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has filed a complaint with the government over the HLS award, claiming its lander design was not given proper consideration.
This increasingly ugly spat between two billionaires started last year when NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX, Blue Origin, and long-time government contractor Dynetics to develop concepts for lunar landers. Blue Origin proposed a new three-stage design called Blue Moon, which you have to admit is a great name. However, SpaceX said it would just use the Starship, which fits with its plans to use the next-gen rocket for everything from orbital operations, to Mars colonization, to Earth transport.
NASA announced recently that it was going with SpaceX and only SpaceX. Blue Origin has filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which will have 100 days to make a decision on the protest. Blue Origin notes in its protest that NASA has traditionally handed out contracts to more than one company for major initiatives like the HLS. For example, both SpaceX and Boeing got contracts under the commercial crew program, and look how that turned out. One firm (SpaceX) is already flying astronauts, and Boeing has been delayed more than a year because of technical glitches.
Blue Origin says NASA repeatedly indicated it would grant contracts to two different entities, but the final decision included only the $2.89 billion SpaceX system. Bezos’s rocket company also claims NASA took cost into consideration more than it initially said it would, putting Blue Origin’s $6 billion proposal at a disadvantage. NASA allegedly went back to SpaceX and negotiated a lower price, which it did not do with either Blue Origin and Dynetics.
Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 26, 2021
Even if it can convince the GAO to uphold NASA’s decision, SpaceX isn’t in the clear — it still has to build the HLS. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk cheekily noted that Blue Origin has yet to get a rocket into orbit, but the Starship development has seen its fair share of setbacks. All of the company’s recent Starship tests have ended in fiery explosions. That said, SpaceX is much further along than any of its competitors, and the Falcon 9 has shown its technology does work.
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