The Government Accountability Office squashed Blue Origin’s protest over NASA’s decision to pick a single lunar lander contractor, the agency said Friday, also denying a similar protest from Dynetics. The GAO’s decision keeps Blue Origin’s rival, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the sole winner of NASA’s lucrative Moon lander program and hands a loss to Jeff Bezos, whose space company waged a months-long fight to win the same funding.
Musk responded to the news by tweeting “GAO” with a flexing bicep emoji.
In picking only SpaceX, NASA said it did what it could with the funding it had from Congress. Lawmakers gave NASA a quarter of the roughly $3 billion it requested for its astronaut Moon lander program. In its protest, Blue Origin said NASA should’ve called off the program or retooled it when the agency realized it wouldn’t have had enough money to fund two contractors. But the GAO rejected that argument, saying “there was no requirement for NASA to engage in discussions, amend, or cancel the announcement as a result of the amount of funding available for the program.”
Blue Origin and Dynetics’ loss at the GAO lifts
“We stand firm in our belief that there were fundamental issues with NASA’s decision, but the GAO wasn’t able to address them due to their limited jurisdiction,” a Blue Origin spokesperson said in a statement. If it decides to, the company could bring its grievances to the US Court of Federal Claims, the only other legal arena for bid disputes. “We’ll continue to advocate for two immediate providers as we believe it is the right solution… The Human Landing System program needs to have competition now instead of later – that’s the best solution for NASA and the best solution for our country,” the spokesperson said.
Blue Origin’s proposal for the NASA program was for its $6 billion Blue Moon lunar lander, which the company is building with a “National Team” of subcontractors that includes Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. On Monday,
That offer still stands, a Blue Origin spokesperson said, adding: “We’re talking with NASA about next steps and appropriate actions.”
NASA said the GAO ruling in its favor allows the agency and SpaceX to come up with a timeline for landing humans on the Moon. It wasn’t immediately clear whether NASA still expects SpaceX to meet the 2024 deadline after the 95-day delay caused by the protest, but it said it’s “moving forward with urgency” while keeping safety during Starship’s development a priority.
The first two Artemis missions are still on track, NASA said. The first will be uncrewed. For the second Artemis mission, astronauts will take a trip around the Moon and back aboard the agency’s Orion capsule, without landing. The third mission will involve a landing with SpaceX’s Starship, which will ferry astronauts from Orion down to the lunar surface.
“As soon as possible, NASA will provide an update on the way ahead for Artemis, the human landing system, and humanity’s return to the Moon,” NASA said.
Update July 30th 5:35PM ET: Adds a statement from NASA and background on the agency’s first two Artemis missions