Government denies Bezos’ Blue Origin protest against NASA HLS contract

Jeff Bezos, owner of Blue Origin, unveils a new lunar module called the Blue Moon during an event at the Washington Convention Center on May 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images

The US government’s Accountability Office on Friday rejected protests by companies affiliated with Jeff Bezos that NASA had mistakenly awarded a lucrative astronaut moon lander contract exclusively to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The complaints were filed by Jeff Bezos ‘Blue Origin and Leidos’ subsidiary Dynetics.

“NASA did not violate public procurement laws or regulations when it decided to award only one award … the evaluation of all three proposals was reasonable and in line with applicable public procurement laws, regulations and the terms of the announcement,” said Kenneth. , Managing Associate General Counsel of GAO Patton wrote in a statement.

The GAO ruling supports the space agency’s surprise announcement in April that NASA has placed an order valued at approximately $ 2.9 billion in SpaceX. SpaceX was likely to compete with Blue Origin and Dynetics for two contracts before NASA awarded a single contract due to a lower allocation to the program from Congress.

NASA said in a statement that the GAO decision will allow the agency “to set a schedule for the first manned landing on the moon in more than 50 years”.

“As soon as possible, NASA will provide an update on the way forward for Artemis, the human landing system, and the return of mankind to the moon. We will continue to work with the Biden administration and Congress to secure funding for a robust and sustainable approach. “For the nation’s return to the moon in collaboration with US trading partners,” the US space agency said.

A spokesperson for Blue Origin told CNBC that the company still believes that “there were fundamental issues with NASA’s decision, but GAO couldn’t address it due to its limited jurisdiction.”

“We will continue to advocate two immediate vendors as we believe this is the right solution,” said Blue Origin. “The Human Landing System program must have competition now instead of later – that is the best solution for NASA and the best solution for our country.”

SpaceX and Dynetics did not respond to CNBC requests for comment. For his part, Musk commented on the GAO’s decision in a tweet with a single emoji for the flexing arm.

NASA decision

Spacecraft prototype rocket SN15 launches from Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX

The GAO protest ruling resolves a dispute over NASA’s Human Landing System program, one of the final key elements in the agency’s plan to return US astronauts to the lunar surface.

Prior to the last award, NASA had placed nearly $ 1 billion in concept development contracts – SpaceX received $ 135 million, Dynetics received 253 million, and Blue Origin received $ 579 million.

In choosing SpaceX for the next round of development, NASA decided to fund a variation of SpaceX’s Starship rocket, prototypes of which SpaceX was testing at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

NASA plans to have their astronauts use Starship to transfer from the agency’s Orion spacecraft when the capsule reaches lunar orbit.

Protests from Blue Origin and Dynetics

Shortly after NASA’s announcement in April, Blue Origin and Dynetics each filed protests with GAO demanding the trial and decision of the space agency.

Blue Origin condemned the award as “flawed” in April, saying NASA “moved the goal posts at the last minute”.

The company also announced that its $ 5.99 billion bid was roughly double that of SpaceX. NASA later announced that Dynetics’ bid was even higher at $ 8.5 billion.

One effect of the protests is that NASA was unable to advance work on HLS with SpaceX, with work on the program essentially being suspended until the GAO’s decision.

Bezos’ counter

Shortly after flying into space on Blue Origin’s first manned flight, Bezos wrote in a letter to NASA earlier this week that he would cover up to $ 2 billion in the space agency’s costs for a lunar landing contract.

“We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and resolve its budget constraints and get the Artemis program back on a more competitive, credible and sustainable path,” Bezos wrote in the letter.

Blue Origin communications vice president Linda Mills told CNBC in an email that Bezos had “made no change to the offering” following the GAO ruling.

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