NASA has suspended work on a new contract to launch a lunar spacecraft on SpaceX for 2.9 billion dollars, while the Federal Monitoring Agency decides two protests over the award, the agency said on Friday.
The suspension of the human landing system (or HLS) until GAO decides on the two protests means that SpaceX will not immediately receive its first installment of the $ 2.9 billion prize, nor will it begin initial talks with NASA, which usually held at the beginning of a large contract.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX was chosen by NASA on April 16 to build the agency’s first human lunar spacecraft after the Apollo program, as the agency chose to rely on only one company for a grand contract that many in the space industry expected to go to two companies.
As a result, two companies that applied for the contract, Blue Origin and Dynetics, protested against NASA̵
“In line with GAO’s protests, NASA has instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been halted until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this order,” NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt said in a statement.
Starship, SpaceX’s fully reusable rocket system, which ultimately sent people and cargo to the moon and Mars, won the NASA award mainly because of its huge cargo capacity and $ 2.9 billion bid – much cheaper than Blue Origin’s and Dynetics, according to NASA’s Source Selection Document.
Starship’s development to date has been driven primarily by Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX. The company has launched several prototypes of Starship in test flights at short and high altitudes at its launch facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Landing the prototypes after taking off over six miles in the air proved to be a huge challenge – all prototypes of SpaceX rockets at height were destroyed in explosions in the landing phase.
SpaceX’s private development of SpaceX is likely to continue. The company’s latest test for the Starship prototype, SN15, is set to begin in the next few days after approval of the license by the Federal Aviation Administration this week.
NASA said choosing a company was the best decision it could make at the time with congressional funding. Last year, Congress gave the agency $ 850 million out of the $ 3.3 billion it asked to procure two lunar landings.
The SpaceX award was a key “first step” in a broader program to provide transportation to the moon, NASA space chief Katie Luders said at the time, promising that new contract opportunities would open up in the near future.