Jeff Bezos Blue Origin Protests NASA’s SpaceX Contract

The decision by the US space agency NASA to award Elon Musk’s SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build the Artemis lunar lander, has triggered a formal protest from rival Blue Origin.

Blue Origin of course is owned by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, while SpaceX is owned the world’s second richest man Elon Musk.

The dispute between the two firms centres over NASA’s Human Landing System, CNN reported. The American space agency had intended to have at least two private-sector companies compete to build the spacecraft that will ferry astronauts and equipment to the lunar surface for the space agency’s Artemis moon landing missions.

NASA’s Orion crewed spacecraft. Image credit: NASA

NASA protest

But earlier this month, NASA made the surprise announcement that it would move forward with SpaceX as the sole contractor for the project.

It reportedly cited costs as a primary reason for the decision.

But not everyone was happy at NASA’s decision.

It was first reported by the New York Times, that Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said NASA’s decision was flawed because it misjudged advantages of Blue Origin’s proposal and downplayed technical challenges in SpaceX’s.

Hence it filed an official protest over the matter.

A third company that was also competing for the HLS contracts, namely Alabama-based Dynetics, also protested NASA’s decision.

Musk mocks

But SpaceX’s colourful boss Elon Musk was not going to let Blue Origin’s protest slide, and responded on Twitter in a schoolboy manner, in a reply to a Tweet about the New York Times article on Blue Origin’s protest.

“Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol,” Musk tweeted.

SpaceX reportedly did not respond to a request for comment, but Musk then followed up his tweet with another referring to Blue Origin’s proposed lunar lander design, which was called “Blue Moon.”

Musk referred to it as “Blue Balls.”

Blue Origin statement

According to CNN, both Blue Origin and Dynetics argued in their complaints, filed with the Government Accountability Office this week, that NASA hadn’t properly evaluated their bids.

They urged the US space agency to reconsider.

The government has 100 days (or until 4 August 2021) to rule on whether the protests have merit.

“In NASA’s own words, it has made a ‘high risk’ selection,” Blue Origin was quoted as saying in a statement. “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 had proposed working as a ‘National Team’ for the HLS program alongside frequent government contractors such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to design a lunar lander specifically to service the space station, called Gateway, that NASA plans to put in orbit around the moon.

Dynetics proposed a similar approach.

SpaceX however has its Starship vehicle, which is currently being tested in Texas. Some of these tests have resulted in the spacecraft exploding after it came back down to land vertically.

Although Starship is designed to eventually take mankind to mars, a modified version of the spacecraft has been proposed to service NASA’s Artemis moon program.

And SpaceX is the one gaining value data thanks to its real world missions to date.

Last week a reusable SpaceX launcher made history when it carried four astronauts from three countries from a Florida launchpad to a rendezvous with the International Space Station.

The launch was SpaceX’s third crewed launch to date, and the first to use a previously flown booster and spacecraft.

The company has also announced plans for its first all-civilian spaceflight for the fourth quarter of this year.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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