“Not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract.” This was the response of Blue Origin founder and leader Jeff Bezos, via Twitter, to a court judgement against the firm’s plea that NASA should not have awarded a sole US$2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to build the Human Landing System (HLS) lunar spacecraft. Bezos’s statement is taken as an indication that Blue Origin will not be appealing the decision.
Originally two firms were to have been selected to receive funding, as promised in the original competition. However, financial constraints and the need to have a lander as early as possible led NASA to choose only the SpaceX Starship-based HLS design.
Blue Origin argued that this award was unfair. Its grounds for protest were that SpaceX had not offered to hold a flight readiness review (FRR) before the launch of each element of its lander systems – a breach of the original conditions of the competition, and which had implications for safety. NASA waived this requirement to allow the SpaceX bid to win and Blue Origin protested that it might have changed its design had it known that this requirement was not needed.
In his judgement in the Court of Federal Claims, Judge Richard Hertling dismissed the claim against the US federal government. Blue Origin and fellow competitor Dynetics had originally protested the decision to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). When this failed Blue Origin pursued its own legal case.
The lawsuit, filed in August, held up work on the SpaceX lunar lander, which threatened to delay the rest of NASA’s Artemis plan to put its and space ally nations’ astronauts onto the Moon. The first landing by Artemis 3 is planned to take place in September 2024 – although 2025 is thought more likely.
Despite this judgement, Blue Origin has its supporters. The US Senate has called for NASA to fund a second human lander system. However, it has yet to come up with sufficient funds via its NASA budget appropriations to do this.