Relations appear to have soured further between Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and NASA, as Bezos’s space company has officially filed to sue the space agency for not choosing it for its lunar lander contract.
Blue Origin has filed a complaint in federal court against NASA, escalating its original complaint that NASA unfairly awarded the lunar lander contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX back in April. At the time it was expected that NASA would choose two of the three competing companies pitching to provide the lander that will take astronauts to the surface of the Moon as part of the Artemis mission. Instead, NASA only chose one – SpaceX – at a cheaper (albeit still $2.89 billion) price.
Bezos's company, whose proposal came in at $5.99 billion, accused NASA of "moving the goalposts", giving SpaceX an unfair advantage by allowing it to revise the pricing of its pitch after a change to NASA’s budget. It also accused NASA of unfair criticism in some technical evaluations of its own proposal. At the time, the Senate only accepted a fraction of the funding NASA requested for its Human Landing System.
Despite losing its appeal to the US Government Accountability Office challenging NASA on its decision at the start of this month, Blue Origin is taking further action, this time challenging “NASA's unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals" in a federal court.
It filed the suit in the Court of Federal Claims on August 13, SpaceNews reports, seeking a protective order to seal its documents, which it received August 16. The previous weeks it had been in talks with NASA to forestall a lawsuit.
This comes less than a month after Blue Origin offered what many called a hefty bribe, waiving $2 billion in fees should NASA choose to amend its contract to include Blue Origin, which NASA declined. Now, the lawsuit is likely to push back the already troubled timeline of the Artemis mission, and is not likely to endear the company to NASA.
It's unclear what Blue Origin's aggressive approach is hoping to achieve. Its feud with NASA is unlikely to make it an appealing option for future contracts, and its attacks on SpaceX are undoing any friendly relations within the space community after recent commercial space achievements, making it harder to claim healthy competition. These tactics are also alienating Blue Origin's own staff, with accounts on Reddit and Twitter of employees expressing their embarrassment or disapproval at recent events. As Ars Technica pointed out, a senior engineer on Blue Origin's Human Landing System project actually left the company last week to start at SpaceX.
NASA has until October 12 to respond. Considering how quickly events have escalated from Blue Origin's first official complaint just over three months ago, anything could happen in that time. The irony is that NASA's plans to return to the Moon are being delayed with every step.