NASA has terminated its contract with SpaceX for a landing system to take astronauts to and from the lunar surface. Two other competitors for the contract, Blue Origin and Dynetics, protested to the government’s accountability service (GAO), and NASA issued a suspension order until GAO resolved the matter.
NASA awarded 10-month contracts to three companies a year ago today to further develop their human landing systems (HLS) concepts as part of the Artemis program to return astronauts to the lunar surface: SpaceX, Dynetics and the National Team at Blue Origin this includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.
NASA’s space launch vehicle (SLS) and Orion spacecraft will launch crews into lunar orbit, but they will complete their voyage with the help of the HLS.
Two weeks ago, NASA chose SpaceX to continue development, awarding it a fixed-price contract of $ 2.99 billion. This is only for the first landing of Artemis and a flight test with a predecessor. NASA has issued a separate request for landing systems for future missions.
On Monday, Blue Origin and Dynetics filed protests with GAO, alleging that NASA̵
NASA has now told SpaceX to suspend operations until GAO determines the outcome. A NASA spokesman made the statement to SpacePolicyOnline.com this afternoon.
“In response to 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.”
The issuance of the suspension order was first announced by Space News.
GAO has 100 days – until August 4, 2021 – to make a decision.
SpaceX is already testing prototypes of its Starship system with its own tools. A number of tests were conducted on his Starbase test site in Boca Chica, Texas. Starship is designed for multiple use, so it not only launches but also lands. All four of the last four tests of its three-engine prototypes started and flew well, but the landings led to spectacular explosions. SpaceX sees these failures as a learning experience and simply moves on to the next prototype. The suspension order may not have much effect, as these tests were planned before the contract was awarded. The next is expected soon.
NASA has previously insisted it wants to select two winners, not one, to secure cuts. His decision in favor of SpaceX alone surprised everyone.
NASA’s source selection statement (SSS) explains that there is simply not enough money to continue with two. For FY2021, Congress took only 25 percent ($ 850 million) of the $ 3.4 billion requested by NASA for HLS. SSS said the agency barely had enough for SpaceX’s offer, which was the lowest, adding that it had returned to SpaceX to ask for the best and final offer, but not the other two companies. SpaceX did not change its price, but it did change when payments were due.
Blue Origin published an edited version of its protest on Monday, listing the reasons for its protest. One topic is that the lack of funding changed NASA’s requirements and all bidders should have had the opportunity to review their bids.
Dynetics did not make a copy of its protest public, but two news organizations, Politico and Space News, published stories linking to it today. Dynetics said in a statement that NASA had “apparently abandoned the basic rules it had established for the program” due to a lack of funding, which made the program, as planned, “no longer feasible”. NASA therefore had to amend the request to reflect the new budget perspective, open discussions with bidders and allow them to resubmit their proposals, or withdraw or cancel the request altogether and start again.
Both companies claim that NASA’s assessment of their proposals was fundamentally wrong. NASA ranks the proposals on three factors: technical, pricing and management approach. SpaceX ranks first, Blue Origin second and Dynetics third.
SSS alone revealed the price of SpaceX, $ 2.99 billion, adding that Blue Origin is significantly higher than that of SpaceX, and Dynetics – significantly higher than that of Blue Origin.
On Monday, when he filed a protest, Blue Origin revealed that it was worth 5.99 billion dollars. Dynetics has not shared their offer.
The Trump administration has ordered NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. The Biden administration supports Artemis, but did not specify what time frame it meant. Many are skeptical that 2024 is technically or budget-friendly, but current NASA officials and incoming NASA administrator Bill Nelson say it’s possible. Even some senators at Nelson’s confirmation hearing insisted on that date, although Congress drastically reduced HLS funding last year, making such a schedule even less credible.
We hope that the Biden administration will present its plan in the near future as Congress begins consideration of the FY2022 budget request. The administration has proposed a 6.3 percent increase to NASA, for a total of $ 24.7 billion, of which $ 6.9 billion is for Artemis. That’s $ 325 million more than Congress allocated last year, but it will take much less than the Trump administration’s estimates last year to produce American boots on the moon in 2024.
Last updated: April 30, 2021 5:26 PM ET