NASA Halts Moon Lander Work After Contract Challenge

NASA said it has ordered SpaceX to halt work on a contract it was recently awarded to develop a lunar spacecraft, pending the result of two challenges by rival bidders at the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The move means SpaceX must stop any work specifically related to the Human Landing System (HLS) lunar programme until the GAO delivers its decision, expected by 4 August.

The dispute delays SpaceX’s first payment of funds from the $2.9 billion (£2.1bn) contract as well as SpaceX’s first talks with NASA involving the plans.

Last month NASA awarded the contract to SpaceX, beating out Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defence contractor Dynetics.

Image credit: NASA

Moon lander

Blue Origin and Dynetics had both proposed collaborating with multiple contractors on the high-profile programme, which is NASA’s first step toward the Moon since the Apollo mission of 1972.

Both companies appealed to the GAO, with Blue Origin alleging NASA gave SpaceX the opportunity to revise its bid but did not give such a chance to Blue Origin.

The company also said the choice of a single company could endanger NASA’s 2024 target date for completing the project, and extends SpaceX’s “monopolistic” control over space exploration.

“Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement,” NASA said in a statement.

SpaceX’s Starship fully reusable rocket system won the NASA contract largely for its expansive cargo capacity and its $2.9bn price tag, far lower than the Blue Origin and Dynetics bids, according to a NASA source selection document.

Starship prototype

Starship is already under development as a private-sector project to ferry humans to Mars, and SpaceX has launched several prototypes to a height of six miles, although to date all of the prototypes have exploded during descent or after landing.

The next Starship prototype, SN15, is set to launch within the next few days after gaining licence approval from the US’ Federal Aviation Administration last week.

The SpaceX contract award was a key “first step” in a broader programme to return humans to the Moon, NASA human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders said at the time of the award, adding that further contract opportunities would arrive in the near future.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

Recent Posts

Tesla Reaches $1 Trillion Valuation

Car maker Tesla now worth at least double that of Toyota, Volkswagen and Ford combined,…

1 hour ago

Australia Funds Telstra Buy Of Digicel Pacific To Thwart China

Strategic blocking? Australian government joins forces with Telstra to acquire Digicel Pacific, after interest from…

2 hours ago

Apple ‘Very Likely’ To Face DoJ Antitrust Lawsuit – Report

Two year investigation by Department of Justice of tech giants has seen acceleration of Apple…

3 hours ago

France Holds Secret Talks With Israel Over NSO Spyware

Top adviser to French President holds talks with Israeli counterpart to discuss NSO spyware allegedly…

4 hours ago

Facebook Making Online Hate Worse, Whistleblower Tells MPs

Frances Haugen answered questions from the UK parliament's Joint Committee on Monday, after cache of…

6 hours ago

Silicon UK In Focus Podcast: Women In Tech

Today we are speaking to Joanne Thurlow, Head of IT for Siemens Energy, Industrial Application…

6 hours ago