An already tense standoff over the multibillion-dollar lunar lander program intensified on Friday by the federal lawsuit by Blue Origin that challenges a NASA moon landing contract awarded to SpaceX alone.
As a result of the Government Accountability Office reviews, Blue Origin filed suit on August 13 in the Court of Federal Claims. The protective order was posted publicly for the first time on Monday.
Blue Origin states that the lawsuit seeks to remedy flaws in NASA’s acquisition process found in the Human Landing System; however, details of its claim are not published because the documents are sealed. HLS, the project’s official name at the heart of this lawsuit, seeks to build, test, and develop an automobile to put astronauts on the moon for the first time in more than 50 years.
“We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America,” Blue Origin said.
Monica Witt, Blue Origin’s spokesperson, revealed that NASA officials are reviewing the lawsuit. Witt said the agency would provide an update as soon as possible regarding the way forward for returning to the Moon under Artemis as quickly and safely as possible in light of the lawsuit and a possible court order to pause work on SpaceX’s contract.
In April, NASA announced it would award only one contract to SpaceX for $2.9 billion, citing costs as a major factor. NASA had earlier promised to offer multiple contracts to spur the development of at least two lunar landers but didn’t receive all the funding requested for the HLS program from Congress.
NASA’s GAO rejected to request an appeal by Blue Origin, which had attempted to contest the decision during the Congressional investigation.
In addition to the competition between SpaceX and Blue Origin – two companies owned by two of the world’s richest men, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, respectively – there has also been a public PR battle between them. Blue Origin has referred to SpaceX’s HLS program (Starship rocket program in South Texas) as “immensly complex and high risk.”
Musk has been disparaging Blue Origin’s claims on Twitter for weeks, at one point writing that “If lobbying & lawyers could get u to orbit [right now], [Blue Origin Founder Jeff] Bezos would be there right now.”