Despite Competitor Protests NASA Pays SpaceX $300 Million To Continue Developing A Starship Lunar Lander

Evelyn Arevalo by Evelyn Arevalo August 14, 2021

Despite Competitor Protests NASA Pays SpaceX $300 Million To Continue Developing A Starship Lunar Lander

Source: / @JaneidyEve via Twitter

NASA selected SpaceX to develop a Human Landing System (HLS) to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program. The agency faced a lot of opposition from competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics, that also bid to develop a HLS. The companies filed protests against NASA claiming its selection process was unfair.

Despite of the opposition, NASA is moving forward to award SpaceX a $2.89 billion HLS contract to develop a lunar-optimized Starship. On July 30, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected the HLS contract protests that were filed by Blue Origin and Dynetics. GAO said in a written announcement: “NASA did not violate procurement law or regulation when it decided to make only one award. NASA’s announcement provided that the number of awards the agency would make was subject to the amount of funding available for the program,” they wrote. “In addition, the announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all. In reaching its award decision, NASA concluded that it only had sufficient funding for one contract award. GAO further concluded there was no requirement for NASA to engage in discussions, amend, or cancel the announcement as a result of the amount of funding available for the program.” NASA did not “act improperly in making a single award to SpaceX.”

Soon after GAO’s announcement, the agency paid $300 million to SpaceX which is a portion of the HLS award to develop a Starship lunar lander. This information is revealed in the federal website - usaspending.govwhere the U.S. government publishes spending data. It states that the funds are for: “WORK REQUIRED FOR THE DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT, MANUFACTURE, TEST, LAUNCH, DEMONSTRATION, AND ENGINEERING SUPPORT OF THE HUMAN LANDING SYSTEM (HLS) INTEGRATED LANDER.”

In response to NASA paying a major portion of the HLS award, a Twitter user asked SpaceX founder Elon Musk if he “expects to have Lunar Starship ready to land humans in 2024 (despite other delays)?” to which Musk replied, “Probably sooner.” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in 2019 that the company aims to land an uncrewed Starship on the lunar surface by 2022. In the last two years the company has made significant progress with the launch system’s development and it is ready to begin pre-flight preparations to launch their first Starship launch vehicle to orbit this year. The flight test will provide engineers valuable insight towards the spacecraft’s development. At the Starbase facility in South Texas SpaceX has a NASA lunar lander mockup nose cone on display, it gives onlookers a glimpse of the future from the public road (pictured below).


SpaceX Starbase Facility in South Texas Boca Chica Beach. Image Source: / @JaneidyEve via Twitter

Featured Image Source: / @JaneidyEve via Twitter

 Source: NASA

Author's Note: Fixed Headline Grammar, deleted word "Despite *Of". 

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