Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight venture Blue Origin has lost out on its lawsuit against NASA over a contract to build the space agency’s next human lunar lander. The judgment puts an end to Blue Origin’s month’s long quest to receive government funding to develop the company’s lander, called Blue Moon, for NASA.
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The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled against Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin on Thursday in the company’s lawsuit versus NASA over a lucrative astronaut lunar lander contract awarded to Elon Musk’s SpaceX earlier this year.
Judge Richard Hertling, who oversaw the federal court case, issued a short ruling yesterday, noting that Blue Origin’s motion for judgement had been denied. The opinion has not been issued publicly yet. All the parties involved will propose which parts they want redacted before the opinion is released openly on November 14th.
Hertling’s ruling dismissed Blue Origin’s claims. The court’s opinion is currently sealed, as the case contains information proprietary to the companies, but the parties were ordered by Hertling to deliver proposed redactions by Nov. 18, to publicly release the opinion.
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Blue Origin had hoped to be involved in NASA’s ambitious plan to return humans to the Moon, an initiative called the Artemis program. To achieve this goal, NASA is working with various companies in the space industry to build rockets and spacecraft that would help send the first woman and the first person of color to the lunar surface.
NASA in April awarded SpaceX with the sole contract for the agency’s Human Landing System program under a competitive process. Worth $2.9 billion, the SpaceX contract will see the company use its Starship rocket to deliver astronauts to the moon’s surface for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions.
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SpaceX was competing with Blue Origin and Dynetics for what was expected to be two contracts, before NASA only awarded a single contract due to a lower-than-expected allocation for the program from Congress.
NASA had requested $3.2 billion for its human lunar lander program for this year, but Congress only gave the space agency $850 million, about a quarter of what NASA had hoped for. Meanwhile, NASA has been striving to reach the lunar surface as early as 2024, an incredibly ambitious deadline that seems all but impossible with the budget shortfall.
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Bezos wrote a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, proposing to build Blue Moon for a discount of $2 billion over the next two years to bridge the “funding shortfall.” The extra money would have been provided by Bezos himself, who is currently the second wealthiest person in the world.
NASA argued that Blue Origin “gambled” with its bid for the lunar lander program, which it ultimately lost. The company “made an assumption about the Agency’s [lunar lander] budget, built its proposal with this figure in mind, and also separately made a calculated bet that if NASA could not afford Blue Origin’s initially-proposed price, the Agency would select Blue Origin for award and engage in post-selection negotiations to allow Blue Origin to lower its price.
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“There will be forthcoming opportunities for companies to partner with NASA in establishing a long-term human presence at the Moon under the agency’s Artemis program,” the agency added.
Bezos also weighed in saying that the ruling was “not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract.”
In response to yesterday’s ruling, Blue Origin said it looks forward to continuing to work with NASA on potential future contracts. “Our lawsuit with the Court of Federal Claims highlighted the important safety issues with the Human Landing System procurement process that must still be addressed,” the company wrote in an emailed statement.
It’s also possible that NASA could award future contracts to Blue Origin and Dynetics, depending on the funding the agency receives in the future.
Earlier this year, Administrator Nelson had requested an extra $5.4 billion for NASA’s human lunar lander program, with the aim of getting the money through President Biden’s proposed infrastructure policy. “I think at the end of the day, after all the shouting is over, after all the pushing and tugging, a lot of which has nothing to do with NASA, you will see that NASA will have the funds that it needs,” he said, according to Space News.