Blue Origin, the space business founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, sued the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Monday, Aug. 16, alleging that NASA “unlawfully” evaluated proposals from SpaceX, the brainchild of Elon Musk.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, challenges NASA’s decision to give SpaceX an exclusive lunar lander contract worth $2.9 billion after the agency promised to pay two separate payments. Blue Origin wanted to obtain at least one of the grants, which were being competed for by SpaceX, Dynetics, and Bezo’s firm, Washington Examiner reported.
“This bid protest challenges NASA’s unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals,” Blue Origin’s lawyers wrote in the court filing, according to NBC News.
According to a representative for Blue Origin, the case seeks to “restore fairness” in NASA’s contracting structure, which made history in July when Bezos took a ride into space.
“We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America,” Blue Origin said.
A few weeks before Blue Origin’s move, it had taken its objections to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Still, the bid was dismissed by the agency, and NASA’s decision was upheld.
In an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in late July, Bezos praised his company’s contract bid, claiming that the agency’s choice “broke the mold” and terminated “meaningful competition” in space exploration, CNBC reported.
“Our approach is designed to be sustainable for repeated lunar missions and, above all, to keep our astronauts safe,” Bezos wrote. “We created a 21st-century lunar landing system inspired by the well-characterized Apollo architecture—an architecture with many benefits. One of its important benefits is that it prioritizes safety.”
“Yet, in spite of these benefits and at the last minute, the Source Selection Official veered from the Agency’s oft-stated procurement strategy,” the business mogul added. “Instead of investing in two competing lunar landers as originally intended, the Agency chose to confer a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar head start to SpaceX. That decision broke the mold of NASA’s successful commercial space programs by putting an end to meaningful competition for years to come.”
NASA only awarded a single contract due to a lower-than-expected allocation for the program from Congress.
Blue Origin has recently stepped up its public relations campaign against NASA’s plan to land men on the moon using SpaceX’s next-generation Starship. Blue Origin has stressed the “unprecedented number of technologies, developments, and operations that have never been done before for Starship to land on the Moon” in a series of comparative infographics.
Last week Blue Origin also produced an infographic adding that Starship is “a launch vehicle that has never flown to orbit and is still being designed” and that the technology confers “heightened risk.”
In reaction to Blue Origin’s infographic, Musk shared his thoughts on Bezos’ company and its criticism.
“The sad thing is that even if Santa Claus suddenly made their hardware real for free, the first thing you’d want to do is cancel it,” Musk wrote in a tweet.
The sad thing is that even if Santa Claus suddenly made their hardware real for free, the first thing you’d want to do is cancel it— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 13, 2021