Blue Origin's Lawsuit Against NASA Was Just Struck Down

In a colossal win for SpaceX.
Brad Bergan
Jeff Bezos (left), and Elon Musk (right).1, 2

SpaceX just scored another major win in Space Race 2.0.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims struck down Blue Origin's lawsuit against NASA, solidifying SpaceX's $2.9 billion lunar lander contract from the agency, according to an initial report from CNBC.

And with no sign of further dispute, this means Elon Musk's SpaceX can finally resume test flights of its Starship prototypes.

Blue Origin will not contest the court's findings

Federal Judge Richard Hertling ruled in favor of NASA on Thursday, bringing a months-long dispute to a definitive end. In a statement from NASA, the agency said work with SpaceX would resume "as soon as possible" in the wake of the new ruling. "There will be forthcoming opportunities for companies to partner with NASA in establishing a long-term human presence at the moon under the agency's Artemis program." In reply, a Blue Origin spokesperson said the firm's lawsuit "highlighted the important safety issues with the Human Landing System procurement process that must still be addressed," according to the CNBC report.

"Returning astronauts safely to the moon through NASA's public-private partnership model requires an unprejudiced procurement process alongside sound policy that incorporates redundant systems and promotes competition," continued the statement from Blue Origin in the report. "Blue Origin remains deeply committed to the success of the Artemis program." Even Jeff Bezos, the second space baron himself, tweeted that the ruling was "not the decision he wanted," but conceded the loss: "we respect the court's judgment". In other words, it looks like Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin will no longer contest NASA's award to SpaceX, or appeal the court's findings.

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SpaceX's Starship prototype tests will finally resume

While SpaceX didn't give an immediate response to the news, its CEO Elon Musk could not resist commenting on the ruling, tweeting a meme of a 2021 remake of a 1990s sci-fi flick "Judge Dredd", that read: "You Have Been Judged!" And this comes months after NASA declared that SpaceX would be the sole contractor for the agency's Human Landing System, a program open to competitive bids from the private aerospace industry. SpaceX's contract, worth $2.9 billion, undercut Blue Origin's offering. Deciding on Musk's bid, NASA immediately faced objections from Bezos' company, which protested to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), arguing it had only made an initial offering that it hadn't known would not be followed with a second opportunity to bid.

The GAO denied Blue Origin's appeal in July, and this is when Bezos' aerospace firm escalated the dispute into full-blown legal action. A now-defunct copy of Blue Origin's lawsuit said NASA had wrongly given its contract to SpaceX and "disregarded key flight safety requirements in so doing. That's over now. And SpaceX will use its Starship rocket to carry astronauts to the lunar surface for NASA's Artemis missions, which were delayed in part by Blue Origin's repeated legal interference. And Bezos' company has faced increasing criticism, despite flying two successful crewed flights of its New Shepard rocket (including one with "Star Trek" actor William Shatner). Blue Origin has experienced ballooning employee turnover rates amid allegations of safety issues, in addition to unethical work environments. But this isn't the end for Blue Origin, any more than SpaceX is a perfect model of aerospace ethics. The second space race will go on, but it's important to note that moral and ethical gray areas will multiply in the coming decades.