NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.89 billion Human Landing System (HLS) contract to develop an lunar-optimized Starship to land astronauts on the Moon as part of the Artemis program. Blue Origin’s ‘The National Team’ and Dynetics were also competing for this award, the agency selected SpaceX as the sole HLS contract winner. Then Boeing filed a protest against the contract, stating they believed it was “unfair” because NASA initially intended to select at least two companies to work on returning astronauts to the lunar surface.
However, SpaceX is the only company that offered NASA a fully-reusable launch system capable of transporting both astronauts and a significant amount of cargo, unlike its competitors that only designed a lander capsule that needs to be launched atop a separate rocket. Starship will be capable of in-orbit refueling to fly between the surface and lunar orbit many times. The vehicle can also be used to build a permanent base, astronauts would be able to work and sleep inside Starship’s pressurized cabin on the Moon.
07/27/2021 Update: This Image was included to show an example of Boeing vehicle’s approximate size in comparison to Starship.
NASA says it decided to select one company because of budget constraints. Congress only approved $850 million for the HLS program in fiscal year 2021. In June, the U.S. Senate passed a new bill that would require NASA to select two companies for the HLS lander, if the U.S. House of representatives approve the funding bill.
Initially, Boeing proposed a cost of $5.99 billion to develop its lunar lander for NASA which is roughly double the cost of SpaceX's HLS contract proposal. On Monday, July 26, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos wrote an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, in which he requests a chance to compete with SpaceX. Bezos is now offering to cover up to $2 billion in lunar lander development costs if NASA gives The National Team a chance to compete with SpaceX’s lunar lander. "Blue Origin will bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years up to $2B to get the program back on track right now. This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments," he wrote in the letter.
“Instead of this single source approach, NASA should embrace its original strategy of competition,” Bezos wrote. “[…] Without competition, a short time into the contract, NASA will find itself with limited options as it attempts to negotiate missed deadlines, design changes, and cost overruns.” “[…] We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and solve its budgetary constraints and put the Artemis Program back on a more competitive, credible, and sustainable path. [...] If NASA has different ideas about what would best facilitate getting back to true competition now, we are ready and willing to discuss them,” Bezos further added. NASA officials have not made a public statement about Bezos open letter request. You can read Jeff Bezos' full letter at Blue Origin’s website: Open Letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
Featured Image Source: Blue Origin & SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.