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Blue Origin is causing serious issues with NASA. The agency awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion Artemis Human Landing System (HLS) contract in April to develop a lunar-optimized Starship to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024. NASA is facing opposition from Blue Origin and Dynetics, that also proposed to develop a lunar lander as part of the HLS program but lost the bid. The companies filed multiple protests against NASA claiming the selection process was “unfair” and requested the independent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the case. GAO investigated and rejected the HLS contract protests on July 30, stating that NASA did not break any law for selecting only one company to develop the HLS lunar lander.
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos escalated the dispute after losing the case with GAO. He filed a federal lawsuit against NASA on August 13 to fight for the HLS contract at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. “This bid protest challenges NASA's unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals,” Blue Origin's lawyers wrote in its federal court filing. Many Blue Origin employees do not agree with the steps Bezos is taking. On the same day the lawsuit was filed, Blue Origin’s HLS Lead Engineer Nitin Arora announced they resigned to work at SpaceX instead.
In a 44-page ‘Agency Report' NASA wrote to GAO that was released to the public in late-September, the agency defended its decision to select SpaceX to develop the HLS lunar lander. It also emphasized the importance of the Artemis program and the agency’s urgency to return United States astronauts to the Moon. NASA is worried that the lawsuit could significantly affect the Artemis program. –“[…] All of this once-in-a-generation momentum, can easily be undone by one party—in this case, Blue Origin—who seeks to prioritize its own fortunes over that of NASA, the United States, and every person alive today who dreams to see humans exploring worlds beyond our own,” the agency wrote, “Plainly stated, a protest sustain in the instant dispute runs the high risk of creating not just delays for the Artemis program, but that it will never actually achieve its goal of returning the United States to the Moon. What begins as a mere procurement delay all too easily turns into a lack of political support, a budget siphoned off for other efforts, and ultimately, a shelved mission. GAO should, of course, sustain one or more of Blue Origin’s grounds of protest if they find them to be availing. But NASA merely wishes to impress upon this office just how high the stakes are in the present dispute,” NASA wrote to GAO (document linked below).
NASA: "All of this once-in-a-generation momentum, can easily be undone by one party—in this case, Blue Origin—who seeks to prioritize its own fortunes over that of NASA, the United States, and every person alive today" https://t.co/Pq1kk5xeg1 pic.twitter.com/oXkATXkGCz— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) September 29, 2021
NASA decided to halt SpaceX HLS contract work until November 1st due to the Blue Origin lawsuit. “NASA has voluntarily paused work with SpaceX for the human landing system (HLS) Option A contract effective Aug. 19 through Nov. 1. In exchange for this temporary stay of work, all parties agreed to an expedited litigation schedule that concludes on Nov. 1,” the agency said in a statement. “NASA officials are continuing to work with the Department of Justice to review the details of the case and look forward to a timely resolution of this matter. NASA is committed to Artemis and to maintaining the nation's global leadership in space exploration. With our partners, we will go to the Moon and stay to enable science investigations, develop new technology, and create high paying jobs for the greater good and in preparation to send astronauts to Mars,” the agency wrote in August. However, NASA's decision to halt SpaceX's HLS contract work does not affect SpaceX's daily operations. The company continues to develop the Starship launch vehicle in South Texas and aims to have a space-ready vehicle before the year 2023.
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