NASA suspends SpaceX's moon lander contract after rivals challenge its decision at GAO

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has suspended the work on the lunar lander with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The work will remain suspended till the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) takes a decision on the two protests filed over the contract given to the Crew Dragon company, reported The Verge. NASA announced on 16 April that SpaceX will be the aerospace company working on the moon lander for its Artemis mission. The other two companies which were in the running — Blue Origin and Dynetics — protested this decision. On Monday, Dyneticsand Blue Origin filed protests with GOA challenging the contract. Blue Origin alledged that by only picking SpaceX, NASA endangered the 2024 timeline.

This illustration made available by NASA in April 2020 depicts Artemis astronauts on the Moon. On Thursday, April 30, 2020, NASA announced the three companies that will develop, build and fly lunar landers, with the goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2024. The companies are SpaceX, led by Elon Musk; Blue Origin, founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; and Dynetics, a Huntsville, Ala., subsidiary of Leidos. (NASA via AP)

The company also argues that NASA gave SpaceX the chance to revise its bid while Blue Origin was not given that opportunity. It has argued in front of GAO that NASA’s decision will further the ‘monopolistic’ control SpaceX has in space exploration.

In a report by The New York Times, Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin, questioned NASA’s decision and said they were was based on "flawed evaluations of the bids" He also said that the space agency had misjudged the advantages of Blue Origin’s proposal and downplaying technical challenges in SpaceX’s. NASA, he believes, placed a larger emphasis on the cost of the lander than it said it would.

“It’s really atypical for NASA to make these kinds of errors,” Smith said. “They’re 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.”

Speaking about the development, Monica Witt, spokeswoman of NASA said that the agency has asked SpaceX to stop work related to the Human Landing System (HLS) until GAO resolves litigation related to the project.

It is expected that GAO will give its decision regarding the complaints made by rival bidders by 4 August.

"Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS (human landing system) contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement," Witt said on Friday.

The Human Landing System (HLS) will be the second project after the Apollo program that aims to take humans back to the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon as part of the 1972 Apollo Program.

SpaceX’s Starship won the bid because its lander was priced at USD 2.8 billion which was cheaper than both Blue Origin and Dynetics. Another factor why SpaceX won the award was its massive cargo capability.

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