Due to a lawsuit filed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, NASA must once again halt work on its human lunar lander cooperation with SpaceX, jeopardizing the agency’s tight deadline to send astronauts to the moon.
NASA announced in mid-April that SpaceX would develop the Human Lander System (HLS) for the Artemis 3 mission, which is set to launch in 2024 and will ferry space-explorers from the lunar orbit to the surface. However, because of repeated concerns from Blue Origin, who also bid for the contract, NASA has only spent weeks actively working on the cooperation since the decision.
Blue Origin sued NASA Agency in the Court of Federal Claims on August 13 after an independent government agency dismissed its first complaint about the contract; the agency has now agreed to stop the program for 2.5 months in return for resolving the litigation by the end of that window.
“NASA has voluntarily halted work on the human landing system (HLS) Option with SpaceX. This is because a contract runs from August 19 to November 1st, “NASA officials said in an emailed statement to Space.com. “All parties consented to an accelerated litigation schedule that ends on November 1 in exchange for this interim stay of work. NASA officials are continuing to cooperate with the Department of Justice (DoJ) to analyse the case’s details and are hopeful that the matter will be resolved quickly.”
NASA’s Artemis program to return men to the moon is based on partnerships with American businesses. The agency builds on the paradigm it created with the International Space Station’s commercial cargo and crew programs. While humans will launch on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket as well as Orion spacecraft, they will be transported to the lunar surface by a commercial partner.
Dynetics, SpaceX, and the so-called National Team lead by Blue Origin all filed offers to fill the position. Many expected NASA to choose two, as it did with the space station deals; however, Congress provided far less funding for the project than NASA had sought, $850 million vs. more than $3 billion.
As a result, NASA only gave one contract to SpaceX, which had submitted the lowest offer and prepared to adapt its already-in-development Starship rocket and Super Heavy launcher for the job. Blue Origin and Dynetics immediately requested that NASA’s decision be reviewed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), putting the project on hold; the GAO declared on July 30 that it would uphold NASA’s decision.