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Two Companies Protest NASA's SpaceX Selection For Human Landing System

Artist’s illustration of SpaceX’s Starship on the lunar surface.

Two private space companies are protesting a NASA contract decision for the agency’s next moon lander.

NASA picked commercial company SpaceX and its Starship spacecraft as the sole winner of the Human Landing System contract, valued $2.9 billion dollars.

The Human Landing system is an integral part of NASA’s Artemis program, a new effort to return humans to the moon.

The agency said SpaceX’s bid was “the lowest among the offers by a wide margin.”

But Blue Origin, headed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, said the selection “eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America’s return to the Moon.” The company filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office.

The award came after a year-long down select process after NASA awarded SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics contracts to develop the lander proposals.

Blue Origin’s bid was submitted as the National Team, a group of space companies including Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. Blue’s lander would cost NASA $5.9 billion.

In the protest document, Blue alleged NASA allowed SpaceX to renegotiate its price without extending the same opportunity to the National Team. Alabama defense contractor Dynetics also bid a lander design and lost. The GAO said the company has also submitted a protest.

NASA struggled to get adequate funding for the Human Landing System from Congress, receiving only $1.5 billion over two fiscal years. Agency officials said budget restraints played into the selection and said there could be an opportunity for future contracts, which Blue Origin and others could compete for.

According to data from GAO, only 15 percent of protests submitted last fiscal year were sustained.

Copyright 2021 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Brendan Byrne