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Blue Origin's Protest to SpaceX's Lunar Lander Deal Was Just Shot Down

NASA did nothing wrong.

Blue Origin's Protest to SpaceX's Lunar Lander Deal Was Just Shot Down
CEO Blue Origin Jeff Bezos Daniel Oberhaus / Flickr

You can't win them all.

Blue Origin's protest of SpaceX's multi-billion dollar contract was shot down by the U.S. watchdog organization, dashing CEO Jeff Bezos' hopes to develop NASA's lunar lander for the foreseeable future, according to a statement from the agency.

And, predictably, CEO SpaceX Elon Musk loved it.

Blue Origin offered to cut $2 billion from its proposal

Blue Origin's protest was denied by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Friday, in addition to another, distinct challenge to SpaceX's NASA contract from Dynetics, a defense contractor that submitted a proposal for the same deal. GAO's decision found that NASA hadn't violated any regulations or laws when it gave SpaceX sole recipiency of the reward. "As a result, GAO denied the protest arguments that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX," read GAO's Friday statement. Blue Origin was unsatisfied with NASA's decision to give a major contract for its Human Landing System Program, which will develop the mission hardware and spacecraft to put the first humans on the moon's surface since Apollo, to SpaceX, alone.

This seemed inconsistent with NASA's initial intention to award its contract to two companies. SpaceX's proposal for the agency's system program was $2.9 billion, roughly half the price of Blue Origin's, which was $5.99 billion. CEO Blue Origin Bezos wrote a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson earlier this week, suggesting they cut $2 billion off of his company's proposal to meet "near-term budgetary issues" that were cited as the impetus for NASA's single-company selection. But while NASA's decision to award the contract solely to SpaceX did break with historical precedent, GAO argued that "the [contract] announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all."

Blue Origin remains hopeful that NASA will come around

Blue Origin's position remains that it wasn't given sufficient time to revise its pitch after NASA said it lacked the requisite funds to accept two proposals. "Blue Origin was plainly prejudiced by the Agency's failure to communicate this change in requirements," said the company in its protest. "Blue Origin could have and would have taken several actions to revise its approach, reduce its price to more closely align with funding available to the Agency, and/or propose schedule alternatives." Since GAO's ruling that rejected Bezos' letter, his company said that it still disagrees with the ruling. "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," said a Blue Origin spokesperson in a TechCrunch report. "We'll continue to advocate for two immediate providers as we believe it is the right solution."

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The Blue Origin spokesperson also said the company was optimistic about lawmakers presently working to write a provision to a bill in the Senate that could force NASA to select two companies for its HLS program. In typical, terse fashion, CEO SpaceX Elon Musk had little to say about the decision, tweeting "GAO", with a flexed-arm emoji. In other words, Musk is a fan of the decision. But, whether SpaceX is or isn't the best choice for NASA in 2021, the coming years may see even more private aerospace firms competing for the prize of missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

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