Blue Origin has chosen to continue to fight against NASA’s selection of SpaceX to build a human landing system as part of the Artemis Moon program.
The company filed a lawsuit in the United States Federal Claims Court on Friday and received a protective order to seal the documents on Monday. The lawsuit follows a decision in late July by the United States Government Accountability Office that rejected a protest by Blue Origin and Dynetics against NASA’s $ 2.9 billion award to SpaceX to further develop its Starship program.
The new lawsuit intensifies Blue Origin’s feud with NASA. As recently as last week, senior executives from NASA and Blue Origin were in talks to prevent such a lawsuit. NASA would still like to include Blue Origin in its Artemis program, a source familiar with the discussions said. However, the space agency does not appear to have reached an agreement with the company.
“We strongly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its results must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America,” Blue Origin said in a statement. about his last protest filing.
NASA said it was aware of the lawsuit and that the space agency was reviewing the details. In a statement, the agency said:
NASA is committed to the Artemis program and the country’s global leadership in space exploration. Together with our partners, we will go to the Moon and stay there to enable scientific research, develop new technologies and create well-paying jobs for the greater good and with a view to sending astronauts to Mars. As soon as possible, the agency will provide an update on the way forward to return to the Moon as quickly and safely as possible under Artemis.
Blue Origin’s actions in court – in addition to its clumsy publication of infographics that seek to denigrate SpaceX but which have been widely mocked within the space community – are having a negative effect on the company’s relationship with the government. American and its own employees.
“They’ll never get a real government contract after that,” a NASA source predicted following the filing of the complaint. The sentiment may be similar to the US Space Force, which is frustrated with the delays in delivering the BE-4 rocket engines for the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.
These tactics have alienated some of Blue Origin’s workforce as well. Several employees told Ars they were dismayed by their corporate executives’ decision to attack both NASA and SpaceX following the decision on the lunar lander contract.
A user who identified himself as an employee of Blue Origin took to reddit on Monday to voice the frustrations of some, if not most, of the people working at the Washington state-based company. “I personally think the vast majority of company employees do NOT agree with the infographics and other public relations stunts that company management has encouraged,” the employee wrote. “I haven’t met a single one who feels that way. In fact, most of us are quite disgusted and embarrassed to be portrayed in this way. “
Some fear that Blue Origin’s aggressive stance on the Human Landing System contract could scare away key employees as morale drops. On Monday, for example, a senior engineer in Blue Origin’s Human Landing System project, Nitin Arora, announced on LinkedIn that he was leaving the company to work at SpaceX. “Next stop, SpaceX! I’m incredibly excited and can’t wait to be there, ”he wrote.
So what is Blue Origin’s motivation behind the latest lawsuit?
Internally, the company has not shared much information with its employees. However, to the extent that it offered a rationale, Blue Origin maintains that NASA made an unfair decision. The company told its employees that its main objection was that NASA said at the start of the lunar lander bidding process that price was not the most important consideration. On the contrary, Blue Origin believes that the space agency selected only SpaceX, rather than multiple bidders, because SpaceX offered the lowest bid.
However, the United States Government Accountability Office has vigorously rejected this argument. GAO’s decision document says NASA was well justified in picking a single winner for the lunar lander bid, as Congress only appropriated about a quarter of the funds sought by the space agency. . NASA, the document says, “has specifically warned all bidders that the number of awards is subject to available funding, and the agency may award multiple contracts, one award, or no award.”
SpaceX’s bid was significantly less than Blue Origin’s, around 50% less, as SpaceX offered to fund the majority of Starship’s development. In contrast, Blue Origin didn’t offer to put $ 2 billion of its own funding into its human landing system project until months after NASA made its final selection.
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos also believes his company deserves an award, a source said, for his long-standing lobbying for a human return to the moon. Bezos believes his plea for a lunar lander to the Trump administration in 2017 ultimately led to NASA launching the program. “He feels like without Blue Origin there wouldn’t be an HLS program,” the source said.
The irony is that Bezos knows exactly what impact it has on NASA’s plan to return to the Moon in a timely manner. At a conference on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 2019, Bezos spoke on lunar lander contracts at the JFK library at the JFK space summit. At the time, he had to be convinced that Blue Origin would win one of NASA’s lunar lander awards.
“Today there would be, you know, three protests and the losers would sue the federal government for not winning,” Bezos said. “And so it’s very interesting. What is slowing things down is shopping. It has become the biggest bottleneck of technology. “