Blue Origin is taking NASA to court.
Jeff Bezos' private aerospace firm Blue Origin just sued NASA, in a substantial escalation of its fight to drag NASA's moon program into the company's purview, which it believes was wrongly evaluated and incorrectly awarded to SpaceX, alone, according to an initial report from The Verge.
And this is very likely to further delay NASA's plans to return humans to the moon later this decade.
Blue Origin has sued NASA under seal
Blue Origin's new complaint was filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and is obscured behind a protective order. But in it, the firm challenges NASA's decision to award SpaceX as the sole recipient of the lunar lander award. And, "more specifically ... [it] challenges NASA's unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals submitted under the HLS Option A BAA," according to the official request to file its lawsuit under seal.
The legal complaint comes after a months-long campaign from Blue Origin to win a share of the contract to execute a lunar landing program, which was already awarded to its primary rival, Elon Musk's SpaceX. Judging from a recent audit from NASA citing legal disputes with the company as partially to blame for delaying the agency's 2024 lunar landing goal, it's very possible that this could put a hold on SpaceX's contract, further delaying the agency's lunar ambitions. Blue Origin was one of three private aerospace companies competing for a shot at NASA's contract to put the first astronauts on the moon in nearly 50 years. NASA had initially declined the company's $5.9 billion Blue Moon landing system proposal, deciding instead to move forward with SpaceX's $2.9 billion Starship system while also eliminating the second contractual spot that NASA had said would go to a second company.
Blue Origin seeks to halt SpaceX's lunar lander development
At the time, NASA argued that reduced funding from Congress would permit only one contract recipient, which is why Blue Origin filed an initial protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) less than two weeks following NASA's decision. In its protest, Bezos' company said the agency should have canceled or changed its program's terms upon discovering it lacked the funds to award two separate contracts. Blue Origin also argued that NASA negotiated the SpaceX proposal's terms before announcing the award, preventing Blue Origin and Dynetics from enjoying the same rapport. But the GAO categorically rejected these claims late last month, and reaffirmed NASA's choice as both fair and lawful.
However, the process paused SpaceX's contractual lunar lander development for 95 days while GAO adjudicated Blue Origin's case with NASA. But with this dispute filed in federal claims court, Bezos' company may cause yet another delay. The firm also signaled to the judge that it will push for an order for SpaceX to pause its work yet again while this case moves forward, according to a person in orbit of the notice who spoke anonymously with The Verge. If it happens, the halt on work for SpaceX could last even longer, pushing NASA's Artemis timeline even further back. Whether SpaceX, Blue Origin, or some other interested space firm would do a better job of returning humans to the moon for NASA, we can't say. But embroiling the effort with lawsuits won't bring us closer to liftoff.
This was a developing story and was regularly updated as new information became available.