In a victory for SpaceX, Federal Judge Richard Hertling has dismissed Blue Origins’ lawsuit against NASA. The lawsuit had been filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, alleging that NASA had unfairly favored SpaceX in the process of awarding a critical contract for the Artemis Program.
NASA awarded the contract for development of the lunar lander to SpaceX in April 2021. Previously, the space agency had planned to down-select the competing proposals in stages until only two were in the running.
Three proposals had still been in the running before NASA selected SpaceX for the exclusive contract. SpaceX had submitted a Starship-derived lunar lander that may have been vaguely reminiscent of some retro artwork of crewed lunar missions from before even the Apollo lunar landings. Blue Origin and Dynetics had also been in the running.
Soon after the final down-select, Blue Origin and Dynetics both filed complaints with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO ruled that NASA had not made any error in its selection process.
Blue Origin filed its lawsuit against NASA soon afterward.
The legal wrangling has officially held up work on NASA’s lunar lander. Some U.S. lawmakers weighed in by proposing an amendment to a bill that would have added $10.03 billion to NASA’s budget and allow for the selection of two proposals as previously planned.
There had been hints that cost may have been a factor in NASA’s decision to select only SpaceX. SpaceX’s bid came in at about $2.9 billion, less than half of Blue Origin’s $5.99 billion bid.
With Hertling’s ruling, NASA says that work on SpaceX’s lunar lander can resume “as soon as possible.”
“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 space agency said in a statement on the ruling.
Blue Origin chief Jeff Bezos did not seem pleased by the decision, but implied that he wouldn’t appeal:
Although SpaceX characteristically didn’t release a statement on the ruling, CEO Elon Musk was quick with a meme:
Much of Blue Origin’s original complaint has been redacted due to proprietary information. Hertling’s ruling has been sealed for the same reason.
Blue Origin has reportedly been suffering enormous employee turnover. The engineering team leader for its proposed lunar lander, Nitin Arora, left Blue Origin for a position at SpaceX, for instance. Current and former employees recently alleged a highly toxic and unsafe workplace culture at Blue Origin.
NASA’s Artemis Program includes the goal of landing crews on the Moon beginning as early as 2024. It will launch the uncrewed test flight “Artemis-1” as early as February 2022.
To support extended crewed missions on the Moon, NASA plans to construct the Lunar Gateway with help from international partners, most of which are currently partners on the International Space Station.
Canada, for instance, will provide an upgraded version of its iconic “Canadarm” line of space-rated robotic arms. The original Canadarm robotic arms were used on the Space Shuttle. Canadarm2 is currently being used on the International Space Station.
SpaceX also has a contract to launch the first components of the Lunar Gateway on a Falcon Heavy as early as May 2024.