Ross Wilkers

PROTEST

Bezos, Blue Origin move their lunar lander fight to the court

Jeff Bezos’ space launch startup Blue Origin has taken its protest over the NASA next-generation lunar lander contract to the judicial forum to continue arguing the agency wrongly selected SpaceX for the award.

Blue Origin’s complaint filed Friday at the Court of Federal Claims is sealed, but the company is poised to argue much of the same points it first brought up to the Government Accountability Office earlier this year.

GAO’s decision to deny the post-award protests by Blue Origin and Dynetics, plus back NASA’s process in choosing SpaceX was unsealed late last week.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX won the $2.9 billion contract in April at a price roughly half of what Blue Origin proposed and about one-third of what Dynetics put forth.

One main argument both Blue Origin and Dynetics raised at GAO was over NASA’s intention to have two prime contractors for the lander effort in support of the larger Artemis program. NASA obviously went with one awardee in SpaceX, a move in which GAO said the solicitation left the option open for.

Price was the other crux of both protests, but there again GAO said NASA was within its rights to conduct negotiations with SpaceX after all the bids were in. NASA said it only had enough money for one contract at the time, but also could re-open the competition for future moon landings.

A Blue Origin statement emailed to us through a spokesperson hints that the company will base its argument at the court on prior points it has sought to argue.

“Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” Blue Origin's statement said. “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.”

For its part, a NASA statement emailed through a spokesperson indicated agency officials are reading through Blue Origin's filing.

"NASA is committed to the Artemis program and the nation’s global leadership in space exploration. With our partners, we will go to the Moon and stay to enable science investigations, develop new technology, and create high paying jobs for the greater good and in preparation to send astronauts to Mars," the agency's statement said. "As soon as possible, the agency will provide an update on the way forward for returning to the Moon as quickly and as safely as possible under Artemis."

The Court of Federal Claims has more authority to enforce decisions on bid protests than GAO, which can only issue recommendations for agencies to take if those challenges are sustained.

More delays are likely for the Human Lander System program, which was already halted for 95 days as GAO worked to a decision over the initial protests. GAO has up to 100 days to render a decision, while bid protests at the Court of Federal Claims take much longer and go on the judge’s pace.

Blue Origin’s move to take its argument to court is likely to trigger another delay if the company is able to secure an injunction on the work as the judge adjudicates that case.

As Blue Origin decided on its next steps, the company also stepped up a public relations campaign that included a letter from Bezos to NASA that offered to cover all costs on the lunar lander program at up to $2 billion.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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