The federal government on Friday rejected billionaire Jeff Bezos’ call for Blue Origin to participate in NASA’s plan to use rival Elon Musk’s SpaceX to return astronauts to the moon.
NASA awarded a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to the more mature SpaceX in April, and the company’s bid was lower than that of Blue Origin and Leidos subsidiary Dynetics Inc.. The two losing companies appealed to the Government Accountability Office on the grounds that there should be multiple contracts and the proposal was not properly evaluated, but the agency rejected their request.
NASA said in a statement on Friday that the decision will allow “NASA and SpaceX to establish a timetable for the first manned moon landing in more than 50 years,” saying that the moon landing is a priority for the Biden administration.
Friday’s ruling found that even though NASA originally said it was going to give multiple contracts, it didn’t have enough money and that awarding only one contract was legal. Plus, it found NASA’s evaluation of all three bids “was reasonable, and consistent with applicable procurement law regulation and the announcement terms,” according to a statement by GAO lawyer Kenneth Patton.
SpaceX’s bid had the highest rating while the other bids “were significantly higher in price” with the space agency deciding it couldn’t afford to give out multiple contracts as originally planned, the GAO announcement said.
Blue Origin, which has been trying to get Congress to require a second lander contract, still hopes NASA will change its mind and provide “simultaneous competition,” said company spokesperson Linda Mills.
“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,” Mills said in a statement. “We continue to advocate for two immediate providers as we believe it is the right solution.”
The lunar lander is part of the agency’s extraterrestrial exploration program, and the Trump administration has renewed attention to the moon. The Artemis project involves a new huge rocket that can launch four astronauts into the lunar orbit in the Orion capsule. The lander will take two astronauts to the surface of the moon, where they will explore for about a week, connect with Orion in lunar orbit and return to Earth.
In awarding the contract, NASA stated that the SpaceX lander, called Starship, “includes a spacious cabin”, can be expanded into a fully reusable launch system for the moon, Mars and other places.
According to NASA, the test flight of the space capsule is planned for this year, without astronauts on board, the test flight of the astronauts to the moon — but no landing — is planned for 2023.