As the fight over the contract for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) continues, Blue Origin’s team leader for its proposed lunar lander has left the company for a position at SpaceX. The employee in question, Nitin Arora, announced the move in a LinkedIn post.
“It was one hell of a ride working on the lunar program. Really honored that I got a chance to work with and lead incredibly smart, passionate people over last three years,” he said.
The latest round in a fight for the HLS contract involves a lawsuit against NASA brought by Blue Origin, who claims that the space agency made significant errors when evaluating the proposals made by each of the companies who were in the running. Blue Origin has offered to reduce its bid by $2 billion to make it more competitive against SpaceX’s bid of about $2.9 billion. This offer was rejected on the grounds that Blue Origin was unlikely to create its lunar lander for the lower cost without significant changes to the lunar lander that could make it less functional.
Blue Origin and fellow competitor Dynetics had both attempted to challenge NASA’s award of the contract solely to SpaceX with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO sided with NASA’s analysis that Blue Origin and Dynetics both failed to show that it could have done the job more effectively than SpaceX. SpaceX’s bid also came in at about half the cost of Blue Origin’s.
An especially baffling claim by Blue Origin is that NASA failed to clearly state that supporting the health and safety of a crew using the HLS was a requirement for a successful proposal. The HLS will be required to land two astronauts on the Moon and return them to the Orion capsule that NASA plans to use for the Artemis Project. Despite occasional fatal losses of spacecraft like the Challenger and Columbia disasters, NASA has traditionally made the safety of crews a priority.
Although Arora didn’t give a specific reason for his departure from Blue Origin, some indications that the engineers working for Blue Origin are unhappy with the company executives’ decision to make such a protracted fight out of the HLS award have slipped through the tracks. At least one engineer expressed displeasure with the infographics released by Blue Origin’s public relations department that painted SpaceX’s Starship-derived lunar lander in an unflattering light.
“I personally believe that the vast majority of the company’s employees do NOT agree with the infographics and other PR stunts that the company’s leadership has been pushing. … In fact, most of us are rather disgusted and embarrassed to be represented in this manner,” an anonymous Blue Origin employee said in a Reddit post. He went on to say that Blue Origin’s engineers “do believe in Team Space” and will support anyone who is making progress on the space front, including competitors like SpaceX.
Some commenters did speculate that this would lead to SpaceX poaching some Blue Origin employees that were involved in developing its lunar lander proposal, possibly based on Arora’s recommendations.
“Usually when team leads move positions they are asked if they have any rock stars who they should also try and poach,” said one Redditor known as captaintrips420.
Neither Blue Origin nor SpaceX have published a statement on Nitin Arora’s decision to move over to SpaceX.