Earlier this month, SpaceX was awarded a $2.89 billion contract to develop the landing system alongside NASA to place humans on the Moon once again as part of the Artemis mission. The announcement was met with great excitement, as the Artemis mission is surging forward and it certainly looks possible that it will go ahead as planned.
However, one company was not so enthralled with the decision.
Blue Origin, the spaceflight company owned by Jeff Bezos, has filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office against NASA, claiming that they "moved the goalposts" by awarding SpaceX the only contract for the lander. Originally, NASA was expected to pick two out of the possible three companies (SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics) competing for the contract, but made an alleged last-minute decision to opt for just the SpaceX proposal.
“In NASA’s own words, it has made a ‘high risk’ selection. Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America’s return to the Moon. Because of that, we’ve filed a protest with the GAO,” Blue Origin said in a statement to CNBC.
Blue Origin’s human landing system (HLS) proposal was markedly more expensive than SpaceX’s, coming in at a sizeable $5.99 billion compared to SpaceX's $2.89 billion, but Blue Origin states that even if NASA opted for both proposals, the total cost would come under that of previous collaborations.
Check out the tech demos for Blue Origin's Artemis proposal. Video Credit: Blue Origin
So what exactly does Blue Origin believe was so wrong about the selection process? Well, the protest makes a number of points.
Firstly, Blue Origin believes they were "deprived of a full and fair opportunity" to make amends to their application following a change in the budget. Essentially, they believe that NASA changed the criteria but failed to let them know, resulting in an uneven playing ground.
Next, they believe the ratings given during their technical evaluation were unfair and should have been higher in some areas, as well as some criticisms being unfounded. The argument follows in the same vein, with their management evaluations also being "unreasonable". Blue Origin also believes it was treated unfairly, stating they believe their "abort strategy" should have been marked as a strength, whilst SpaceX should have received critique for theirs.
Finally, they state that the decision to go for one company only is anti-competitive, which only changed due to likely budget constraints.
NASA hasn't responded publicly yet, but Elon Musk has.
Musk, a man known for settling matters on social media, responded in a tweet stating Blue Origin "Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol," poking fun at their lack of a successful launch into orbit in any of their rockets. He also followed up with a picture of Blue Origin’s lunar lander, photoshopped with "Blue Balls" on it.
Blue Origin is currently working towards its first human flight onboard its rocket New Shepherd, while SpaceX recently launched its third successful crewed flight to the International Space Station.