In the latest salvo in an ongoing billionaire saga, Jeff Bezos’s space company Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against NASA after the space agency awarded a contract for a lunar lander vehicle to Blue Origin rival SpaceX.
The lawsuit filed on Friday in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims alleges “unlawful and improper evaluation” on the part of NASA in the selection of SpaceX to provide the Human Landing System (HLS) vehicle for the space agency’s Artemis Moon program.
A NASA spokesperson tells Inverse that the space agency is aware of the suit.
“As soon as possible, the agency will provide an update on the way forward for returning to the Moon as quickly and as safely as possible under Artemis,” according to the spokesperson.
The lawsuit is the latest effort by Blue Origin to thwart Artemis proceeding as planned. It comes hot on the heels of an unsuccessful protest Blue Origin filed with the Government Accountability Office and a series of aggressive infographics critiquing the safety and feasibility of SpaceX’s plan.
“Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” a Blue Origin spokesperson tells Inverse.
“We also believe that it’s in the best interests of our nation to have competition, and we know that both NASA and Congress agree with that.”
It’s clear Blue Origin believes its Blue Moon lander should have been part of the HLS contract, but given that SpaceX has also delayed work on its own lunar lander during the GAO’s evaluation of the earlier Blue Origin protest, it’s not clear if Artemis is still on target to put humans back on the Moon by 2024.
“Not that a 2024 lunar landing goal was realistic from the start, but this is yet another delay for the Artemis program,” Laura Seward Forczyk, founder of space consulting firm Astralytical, wrote in a tweet on Monday. “A legal one, not a technical one.”
Taking the Blue Origin vs. SpaceX to the Moon
In April, NASA chose SpaceX and a variant of the company’s Starship vehicle over designs by Blue Origin and Dynetics for a lunar lander for the Artemis III mission, which is currently scheduled to return astronauts to the moon in October 2024.
Blue Origin and Dynetics filed a protest with the GAO over the $2.9 billion contract going to SpaceX alone. While the GAO investigated the allegation, SpaceX could not work on the lunar lander variant of its Starship vehicle. Then on July 30, the GAO ruled that NASA had done nothing wrong and SpaceX resumed work.
NASA’s explained why it chose SpaceX in a source selection document, which notes that the space agency would have liked to have made awards for two vehicle designs, but it did not have sufficient funding.
Since then, Blue Origin released infographics criticizing SpaceX’s lunar Starship ambitions. The company has also repeatedly argued that the lack of competition and redundancy in the HLS program is too risky for NASA to pursue.
What’s left for the Blue Origin Human Landing System?
It’s not clear whether Blue Origin has a real case with its lawsuit. The company isn’t winning many friends in the process. It’s also not clear that the company needs to win a lawsuit to win a lunar lander contract.
NASA’s contract with SpaceX is only for Artemis III, and a lander has yet to be selected for Artemis IV and beyond. In April, NASA put out a call for proposals for lunar lander vehicles for those later missions, and Blue Origin will presumably be in the mix — assuming it hasn’t made permanent enemies at NASA.
“It’s difficult to judge the merit of this lawsuit. However, if it’s anything like the GAO protest, it will go nowhere. It may further delay Artemis III and reflects poorly on Blue Origin,” Forcyzk states in another tweet Monday.
“There are some great people working at Blue. The company is going in the wrong direction,” she writes in the tweet.
At least one Blue Origin employee is moving in a different direction. On Monday, a lead engineer on the Blue Origin Blue Moon team announced he is joining SpaceX, though neither Blue Origin nor SpaceX commented on the move. On Tuesday, Lauren Lyons, another Blue Origin HLS engineer, was reportedly moving to Firefly Space.