Space industry updates
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A US government watchdog has rejected an appeal from Jeff Bezos’s space company, Blue Origin, over Nasa’s decision to award a lunar landing contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Rejecting the protest, the Government Accountability Office said the space agency “did not violate procurement law or regulation” when it handed SpaceX the $2.89bn deal to help send Americans back to the Moon, possibly as soon as 2024.
The decision represents another blow to Bezos’s ambitions to create a significant space exploration company. Blue Origin has already suffered lengthy delays in producing its own suborbital rocket to compete with the progress made by Musk.
Despite initially signalling its intent to award contracts to several providers, Nasa said in April it would go with just one due to budget constraints. The agency said SpaceX’s bid had come in cheaper by a “wide margin” when compared to the others.
Blue Origin — and another spurned vendor, Dynetics — protested Nasa’s decision, arguing the agency had reneged on its intent to use multiple vendors and failed to give other companies the chance to revisit the cost of their respective bids.
In a statement published on Friday, the GAO said: “Nasa’s announcement provided that the number of awards the agency would make was subject to the amount of funding available for the programme.
“In addition, the announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all.” GAO is the investigative arm of the US Congress and also reviews disputes relating to government contracts.
The rejection comes days after Bezos wrote to Nasa administrator Bill Nelson offering to cover $2bn in costs in this fiscal year and the next two, in exchange for being awarded the contract — an offer that still stands, Blue Origin said on Friday.
“We stand firm in our belief that there were fundamental issues with Nasa’s decision,” the company said. “But the GAO wasn’t able to address them due to their limited jurisdiction. We’ll continue to advocate for two immediate providers as we believe it is the right solution.”
The company said it was “encouraged” by efforts in Congress to increase Nasa’s budget in order to allow it to award multiple contracts, as well as recent comments by Nelson regarding the importance of healthy competition in the modern space race.
Blue Origin added: “The Human Landing System programme needs to have competition now instead of later — that’s the best solution for Nasa and the best solution for our country.”
Nasa acknowledged the GAO’s decision, saying it would allow the agency to forge ahead with the SpaceX partnership. “We will continue to work with the Biden administration and Congress to ensure funding for a robust and sustainable approach for the nation’s return to the Moon in a collaborative effort with US commercial partners,” it said.
On Twitter, Musk responded to the news by writing “GAO” followed by an emoji depicting a flexing bicep.