Over a week ago, NASA awarded Elon Musk's SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build a lunar lander for its upcoming Artemis Moon project. In deciding on SpaceX, NASA passed over defense contractor Dynetics and Blue Origin. The latter is now challenging the decision. In a protest filed with the federal Government Accountability Office (via The New York Times), Jeff's Bezos' rocket company claims NASA improperly awarded the contract to its rival.
"NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute. In NASA's own words, it has made a 'high risk' selection," a spokesperson for Blue Origin told Engadget. "Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America's return to the Moon."
When it comes to its marquee programs, NASA has historically picked multiple contractors. It's taken that approach to promote competition and protect itself if an organization can't deliver a project on time. To that point, NASA chose SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics when it awarded the initial lunar lander contract last year. “[NASA are] generally quite good at acquisition, especially its flagship missions like returning America to the surface of the moon. We felt that these errors needed to be addressed and remedied,” Bob Smith, the CEO of Blue Origin, said in an interview with The New York Times. "We didn’t get a chance to revise and that’s fundamentally unfair.”
As to SpaceX being a "high risk" selection, the plan it won the contract on involves using its in-development Starship to transport astronauts to the Moon. So far, most of the company's test flights have ended in fiery explosions. However, the company has had significant success with both its Falcon 9 rocket Crew Dragon craft, with the two achieving several milestones for SpaceX when NASA's Crew-2 mission recently docked with the International Space Station.
Notably, Blue Origin is the second Bezos-affiliated company to get into a contract dispute with the US government. Last year, Amazon, citing comments made by former President Donald Trump, challenged the integrity of the $10 billion JEDI cloud computing deal the Department of Defense (DoD) awarded to Microsoft. After an internal investigation, the DoD ended up sticking by its decision.