NASA has told Elon Musk’s SpaceX to halt building a lunar spacecraft, pending the outcome of challenges by rival bidders Jeff Bezos and defense contractor Dynetics at the Government Accountability Office, the agency said on Friday.
NASA’s decision means SpaceX has to stop any work specifically related to the moon program contract until the GAO makes a ruling, expected August 4 at the latest.
A SpaceX spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, NASA awarded SpaceX the lunar contract over billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics.
The high-profile project aims to put humans back on the moon for the first time since 1972.
Blue Origin on Monday filed a protest with the GAO, arguing among other things that NASA gave SpaceX the chance to revise its bid but did not give that chance to Blue Origin.
SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk (seen above in Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 19, 2020) has been told by NASA to halt construction on a lunar lander
SpaceX was contracted by NASA to build a lunar lander. The HLS Starship will include the company’s tested Raptor engines, along with pulling inspiration from the Falcon and Dragon vehicles’ designs
SpaceX beat out Jeff Bezos’ (above) Blue Origin and another company, Dynetics. Bezos and Dynetics earlier this week filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office against NASA
Musk trolled his fellow multibillionaire Bezos on Monday, joking that he ‘can’t get it up (to orbit)’ after the Amazon founder’s space company filed a protest against NASA for picking rival SpaceX to build a lunar lander
Blue Origin also argues the decision extends SpaceX’s “monopolistic” control in space exploration.
The GAO confirmed that Dynetics has also challenged the NASA contract award to SpaceX.
‘Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS (human landing system) contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement,’ the agency said on Friday.
Musk trolled his fellow multibillionaire Bezos on Monday, joking that he ‘can’t get it up (to orbit)’ after the Amazon founder’s space company filed a protest against NASA for picking rival SpaceX to build a lunar lander.
Musk took to Twitter to tease Bezos over that lawsuit on Monday evening, and replied to a tweet sharing a New York Times story about the space wrangle, writing: ‘Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol.’
Bezos’ company said that its bid was $5.99billion while SpaceX’s bid came in at $2.91billion, according to AL.com.
Musk’s Starship – the futuristic, shiny steel rocketship that’s been launching and -on one occasion – exploding in Texas – beat out landers proposed by Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics, a Huntsville, Alabama-based subsidiary of Leidos.
News of Bezos’ 50-page protest was first reported on Monday by The New York Times.
Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin, said NASA’s decision to award the contract to SpaceX was based on flawed evaluations.
Smith also accused NASA of placing a bigger emphasis on cost than it said it would. He said the space agency should have stuck to its oft-stated desire to award the contract to two companies.
‘It’s really atypical for NASA to make these kinds of errors,’ Smith told the Times.
‘They’re generally quite good at acquisition, especially its flagship missions like returning America to the surface of the moon.
‘We felt that these errors needed to be addressed and remedied.’
‘NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute,’ the company said in a statement.
‘In NASA’s own words, it has made a “high risk” selection,’ the Blue Origin statement said.
‘Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America’s return to the Moon.
‘Because of that, we’ve filed a protest with the GAO.’
Lawyers for Blue Origin told AL.com that ‘NASA had indicated an overriding intention to make two awards but due to perceived shortfalls in currently available and anticipated future budget appropriations, it made only the award to SpaceX, eliminating HLS competition, and effectively locking down immediate and future lunar landing system development and launch and lunar landing opportunities.’
America has not witnessed a human landing system since 1972 and NASA has been planning an epic return to the moon for quite some time.
However, the historic moon landing turned into a space race between billionaires when NASA announced last year that SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics were competing to turn the plans into a reality.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a live feed in April: ‘With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface.’
The initial 10-month contracts totaled to $967 million: Blue Origin received $579 million, Dynetics $253 million and SpaceX was awarded $135 million.
But now, it will be SpaceX’s innovation that will carry the next two American astronauts the the lunar surface.
Blue Origin has been working on moon landing system, known as Blue Moon, since 2017. The firm had designed a mockup for a revised version it planned to send to the moon
The Artemis mission, which is set for 2024, will see four spacefaring heroes board the Orion spacecraft that will be rocketed off to space by NASA’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS).
Once in orbit, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) and head to the moon.
After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, said: ‘With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration.
‘This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.’
SpaceX’s HLS Starship will include the company’s tested Raptor engines, along with pulling inspiration from the Falcon and Dragon vehicles’ designs.
The lander will feature a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks.
‘The Starship architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations,’ NASA shared in the announcement.
NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024 as part of the Artemis mission
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology.
NASA has chosen her to personify its path back to the Moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2024 – including the first woman and the next man.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars.
Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond.
During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.
It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about a three-week mission.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars. This graphic explains the various stages of the mission
Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.
With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the Moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations farther from Earth, including Mars.
The will take crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with humans aboard.
The SLS rocket will from an initial configuration capable of sending more than 26 metric tons to the Moon, to a final configuration that can send at least 45 metric tons.
Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging crew and cargo mission needs in deep space.
Eventually NASA seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.
The space agency hopes this colony will uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.