Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against NASA, over the $2.9 billion lunar lander contract awarded to Elon Musk’s SpaceX earlier this year.
Blue Origin had complained that NASA had awarded the contract to SpaceX without following due process, which mitigated the chances of other bidders to win the contract.
“This bid protest challenges NASA’s unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals,” Blue Origin’s lawyers wrote in its court filing.
The protest, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on Monday, is the latest move by Blue Origin to overturn the lunar lander contract. A Blue Origin spokesperson told CNBC that it is looking “to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System.”
“We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America,” Blue Origin said.
Blue Origin’s filing in court comes a couple of weeks after the U.S. Government Accountability Office denied the company’s protest, upholding NASA’s decision. Bezos had last month, offered to give NASA $2 billion if it would reconsider its decision on the lunar lander contract, after the space agency cited its own funding shortfalls as part of the reasons for awarding the contract to SpaceX.
NASA rejected bids from Blue Origin and Dynetics, against expectation that it would share the contract between two companies. It chose only SpaceX citing the company’s proven record of orbital missions and other factors. Kathy Lueders, a senior NASA official said the factors represented “what’s best value to the government.”
Following this decision, Blue Origin filed a complaint with the GAO on the claim that NASA gave SpaceX an unfair advantage by allowing it to revise its pricing. Blue Origin said then that the decision “not only delays but also endangers America’s return to the moon.”
Blue Origin was counting on the GAO to reverse the contract decision but was disappointed when the watch dog’s ruling backed NASA’s decision.
Blue Origin has not hid its obsession to win a contract under NASA’s HLS program, even though it has yet no record of successful orbital missions. Before the April contract award, NASA had handed out nearly $1 billion in concept development contracts – with SpaceX receiving $135 million, Dynetics $253 million, and Blue Origin receiving $579 million.
The company’s court filing on Monday comes as Blue Origin has stepped up a public relations offensive against NASA using SpaceX’s next-generation Starship to land astronauts on the moon. CNBC reported a series of comparative infographics, where Blue Origin has emphasized the “unprecedented number of technologies, developments, and operations that have never been done before for Starship to land on the Moon.”
Blue Origin last week released an infographic that added that Starship is “a launch vehicle that has never flown to orbit and is still being designed.”
Musk, in response to Blue Origin’s infographic, gave his view of Bezos’ company and its criticism.
“The sad thing is that even if Santa Claus suddenly made their hardware real for free, the first thing you’d want to do is cancel it,” Musk wrote in a tweet.
The Blue Origin lawsuit is also coming barely a week after Amazon, another company owned by Bezos, won a controversial $10 billion government contract. Amazon Web Services won the $10 billion service contract from the National Security Agency and Microsoft filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office.
Microsoft claims that NSA did not conduct proper evaluation while considering a provider for its new project code-named WildandStormy. The software’s firm move is considered vindictive because Amazon had taken the same step when the Defense Department awarded a $10 billion Jedi contract to Microsoft. The contract was eventually cancelled after years of legal battles, and Microsoft said Amazon is to be blamed for it.