Billionaire Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin firm lost its appeal against NASA's contract with Elon Musk's SpaceX to build its new lunar lander. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled on Friday that NASA's award of the $ 2.9 billion contracts to SpaceX alone was legal and correct.
NASA awarded the hefty contract for a lunar lander to SpaceX, which has a more established track record, in April. Additionally, SpaceX submitted a significantly lower bid than the bids from Blue Origin and from a third company, Dynetics Inc., a subsidiary of Leidos.
The two losing companies filed an appeal with GAO, claiming that there should have been multiple contracts and that the proposals were not properly evaluated, but the agency rejected their request.
NASA said in a statement Friday that the GEO decision will allow NASA and SpaceX to set a schedule for the first crewed landing on the Moon in more than 50 years. NASA said that the return of astronauts from the United States to the moon is a priority of the administration of President Joe Biden.
Blue Origin, however, still hopes that NASA will change its mind or that Congress will force it to award two contracts for the job, even if the space agency says it doesn't have the money.
The Bezos firm, which has been trying to get Congress to require a second moon landing contract, still hopes NASA will allow simultaneous competition. We believe it is the correct solution, company spokeswoman Linda Mills said.
The lunar lander is part of the agency's extraterrestrial exploration plans, reoriented towards the Moon since the administration of President Donald Trump. The Artemis program includes a huge new rocket that would launch four astronauts aboard an Orion space capsule into lunar orbit. The lander would carry two astronauts to the lunar surface, where they would conduct an exploration of about a week, dock the Orion capsule back into lunar orbit, and return to Earth.
SpaceX's lunar lander, called the Starship, includes a spacious cockpit and can be expanded to become a fully reusable launch system for traveling to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere, NASA said when it awarded the contract.
A test flight of the capsule, with no astronauts on board, is scheduled for this year, with an astronaut test flight to the Moon but no landing scheduled for 2023, according to NASA.