NASA puts SpaceX’s lunar lander contract on hold again pending the outcome of Blue Origin’s lawsuit

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin lawsuit caused NASA to suspend its contract with Elon Musk’s SpaceX which was working towards developing a lunar lander for NASA’s mission, announced in mid-April. In this mission, NASA targeted to land its astronauts on moon around 2024. NASA wanted to hire a commercial partner for developing its lunar lander and thus hired Musk’s company and a contract was signed between the two.

Initially, a deadline of 2024 was set on the mission by Trumph’s administration. With Biden taking over in 2021, it became quite unpredictable on whether the mission would be delayed. Though the mission was set to be launched on time, an unexpected obstruction was caused by Blue Origin’s lawsuit. Here is everything you need to know about what went wrong.

Why was the contract between NASA and SpaceX ceased?

The contract between NASA and SpaceX, worth $2.9 billion, was sued by Blue Origin on the basis of the fact that NASA initially made plans to work with two contractors. This is the agency’s traditional way of working when it comes to missions such as this. However, NASA seems not to abide by its tradition due to Congress’ less funding for the project than expected. With such a crisis, NASA could not help but pick one company instead of two.

In this case, NASA awarded the contract to SpaceX, rejecting Blue Origin and Dynetics owing to SpaceX’s smallest bid. This was perfect since NASA was allotted a fund of only $850 million instead of the initial promise of $3 billion for the program.

Allegations were put against NASA in form of protest and campaigns by the two reputed companies. The issues highlighted in these protests could be briefly summarised into two statements. First, NASA violated the laws of the contract. Second, that the agency showed no concern about the Blue Origins or Dynetics and unlawfully snatched their opportunities and negotiated with SpaceX. Both the companies highlighted NASA’s biasness.

However, NASA was supported by GAO (U.S. Government Accountability Office) that cancelled all the accusations put by Blue Origin and Dynetics. It confirmed in its statement that NASA “was reasonable and consistent with applicable procurement law, regulation, and the announcement’s terms.” On the other hand, Blue Origin’s was insistent it its arguments against NASA even though GAO has rendered their protests as a failure.

Another important aspect highlighted by GAO in support of NASA’s decision was that the two organisations, SpaceX and Blue Origin work on different strategies. Blue Origin planned on meeting the HLS requirements with a single launch, whereas SpaceX targeted at supporting the landing on the surface of the moon with multiple launches. Since their operations differed, NASA had the right to choose the one which met its requirements the best.

It was on August 13th that in the Court of Federal Claims, Blue Origin was heard and its complaint led to the ceasing of the contract. NASA had to agree to postpone its project by 2.5 months.

Implications of Blue Origin’s complaints against NASA

The Contract has not been cancelled but is on hold till November 1, when the legal procedures will come to a conclusion. The oral arguments are to take place in the court on October 14. Along with its contract with SpaceX, NASA’s other programs are also facing delays due to the Covid 19 situation.

The ultimate outcome of the complaint and its impact on NASA’s mission is yet to be witnessed. However, amid all these legal arguments and procedures in the court, SpaceX has progressed further with the aid of private funds. It has successfully launched a prototype bound for orbit.

 

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