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Government rejects Bezos protest over NASA HLS contract

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Jeff Bezos, owner of Blue Origin, introduces a unused lunar lander called Blue Moon during an event at the Washington Convention Center, May 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images

The US Government Accountability Office on Friday denied protests by Jeff Bezos’ affiliates that NASA had awarded a lucrative astronaut contract to the moon landing solely to SpaceX’s Elon Musk.

The complaints were filed by Jeff Bezos’ subsidiary Blue Origin and Leidos’ subsidiary Dynetics.

“NASA did not violate procurement law or regulations when it decided to offer only one award…the assessment of all three proposals was reasonable, consistent with applicable procurement law, regulations, and advertising terms,” attorney Kenneth Patton wrote in a statement.

The Government Accountability Office’s decision supports the space agency’s surprising announcement in April that NASA awarded SpaceX a contract worth about $2.9 billion. SpaceX was competing with Blue Origin and Dynetics for what was expected to be two contracts, prior NASA only got one contract due to less than expected allocation to the program from Congress.

In a statement, NASA said the Government Accountability Office’s decision would allow the agency to “establish a timeline for the first manned moon landing in more than 50 years.”

“As soon as conceivable, NASA will provide an update on the coming Artemis route, human landing system, and humanity’s return to the Moon. We will persevere to work with the Biden administration and Congress to secure funding for a robust and sustainable approach to the nation’s return to the Moon in a collaborative effort with United States trading partners.”

A spokesperson for Blue Origin told CNBC that the company still believes there are “fundamental issues with NASA’s decision, but the Government Accountability Office has not been competent to address them due to its limited jurisdiction.”

“We will persevere to support for our two spot providers because we believe it is the right solution,” Blue Origin said. “The HLS program needs to be competitive now, not later – that’s the best solution for NASA and the best solution for our country.”

SpaceX and Dynetics did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment. For his part, Musk threw his weight on the Government Accountability Office ruling with one flexible arm emoji in a tweet.

NASA’s decision

Launch of the SN15 missile prototype from Boca Chica, Texas.


The Government Accountability Office’s protest ruling resolves a dispute over NASA’s Human Landing System program, one of the final major parts of the agency’s plan to return American astronauts to the lunar surface.

Prior to the award of the final contract, NASA provided nearly $1 billion in concept development contracts—SpaceX received $135 million, Dynetics 253 million, and Blue Origin received $579 million.

In selecting SpaceX for the next round of development, NASA decided to fund a distinct version of the Starship rocket from SpaceX, prototypes that SpaceX tested at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

NASA plans for its astronauts to use the Starship to transfer from the agency’s Orion spacecraft when the capsule reaches lunar orbit.

Blue Origin and Dynetics protests

Shortly following NASA’s announcement in April, Blue Origin and Dynetics filed protests with the Government Accountability Office, challenging the space agency’s process and decision.

Blue Origin in April denounced the award as “flawed,” saying that NASA “moved the goalposts at the final minute.”

The company also revealed that its proposal was nearly double that of SpaceX, with a $5.99 billion bid. NASA later revealed that Dynetics’ bid was even higher, at $8.5 billion.

One effect of the protests is that NASA has been unable to move forward with work on HLS with SpaceX, with work on the program essentially halting until the GAO decision.

Bezos counter

Shortly following flying into space on Blue Origin’s first manned flight, Bezos wrote in a letter to NASA earlier this week that he would cover up to $2 billion in the space agency’s costs for a lunar landing contract.

“We stand ready to aid NASA mitigate its technical risks, resolve budget constraints, and return the Artemis program to a more competitive, credible, and sustainable path,” Bezos wrote in the letter.

Linda Mills, vice president of communications for Blue Origin, told CNBC in an email that there was “no change in the offer” that Bezos made following the Government Accountability Office’s decision.

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