Blue Origin loses lawsuit over NASA’s SpaceX lunar lander contract (updated)

Blue Origin has failed in its lawsuit against NASA over SpaceX’s lunar lander contract. CNBC reports the Federal Court of Claims has ruled against Blue Origin, dismissing the company’s claims. While the opinion is currently sealed, Blue Origin’s case had revolved around accusations NASA ignored “key flight safety requirements” when handing the Human Landing System to SpaceX.

The opinion will be publicly available sometime after November 18th, when both sides of the lawsuit are expected to supply redactions. NASA put SpaceX’s work on hold following the lawsuit, but efforts should resume November 8th.

Blue Origin previously challenged the contract through the Government Accountability Office only to be rejected in July, leading Jeff Bezos’ outfit to respond with a lawsuit. The firm even tried drastically undercutting SpaceX with a $2 billion bid, arguing at the time that NASA has historically awarded contracts to multiple partners to make sure a mission launches on time.

The outcome isn’t surprising given NASA’s own skepticism. The agency believed Blue Origin was gambling with its initial $5.9 billion proposal on flawed assumptions that NASA would both haggle down the price and receive the funding needed to cover a more expensive bid. Blue Origin disagreed with the assessment and felt it made a good offer, but that still suggests NASA preferred SpaceX for its lower pricing instead of any unfair criteria.

In a statement, Blue Origin portrayed the ruling as a partial victory. The case allegedly “highlighted the important safety issues” in HLS procurement. and showed the need for an “unprejudiced” process that spurred competition and included backup systems. The company was also keen to tout its continued involvement with the Artemis program, including development of lunar resource systems, robotics and sensors. It’s not clear if Blue Origin will challenge the outcome (we’ve asked about this), but we wouldn’t be shocked if there was an appeal. You can read the full statement below.

Our lawsuit with the Court of Federal Claims highlighted the important safety issues with the Human Landing System procurement process that must still be addressed. Returning astronauts safely to the Moon through NASA’s public-private partnership model requires an unprejudiced procurement process alongside sound policy that incorporates redundant systems and promotes competition. Blue Origin remains deeply committed to the success of the Artemis program, and we have a broad base of activity on multiple contracts with NASA to achieve the United States’ goal to return to the Moon to stay. We are fully engaged with NASA to mature sustainable lander designs, conduct a wide variety of technology risk reductions, and provide Commercial Lunar Payload Services. We are also under contract with NASA to develop in-situ resource utilization technology, lunar space robotics, and lunar landing sensor collaboration including testing on New Shepard. We look forward to hearing from NASA on next steps in the HLS procurement process.

In a tweet, Bezos said: “Not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract.”

Update 11/4, 1:50PM ET: NASA said it would resume work with SpaceX “as soon as possible” following the decision. It added that it was working with multiple companies on Artemis projects, such as a 2022 request for recurring lunar landing services.

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