[Dynetics joins in protest] Blue Origin to challenge the selection of SpaceX’s Starship for human lander contract

Back on April 16th, NASA announced that SpaceX would win the bid for Artemis’ Human Landing System contract. After a year-long competition, Blue Origin disagrees with the selection and hopes to get it changed.

Last year NASA selected SpaceX, Blue Origin’s led National Team, and Dynetics to design and begin the development of lunar landers to be used for the upcoming Artemis Program. The three designs were radically different, with some relying on NASA’s delayed prone SLS rocket and others the use of rockets very early in the development.

NASA said they wished to downselect to 2 companies in order to have redundant landers in case future unknown issues ground one. Yet with funding issues coming from Congress’ budget NASA must have had concerns about being able to fund two different systems and SpaceX’s Starship was the best bet, both in development stage and cost.

Blue Origin doesn’t agree and on Monday filed a 50-page protest of the selection with the federal Government Accountability Office. With almost $3 billion dollars on the table, it is not surprising that Blue Origin would do this, especially since their lander was a solid option to go with, just very expensive.

“It’s really atypical for NASA to make these kinds of errors. They’re generally quite good at acquisition, especially its flagship missions like returning America to the surface of the moon. We felt that these errors needed to be addressed and remedied.”

Bob Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s National Team was formed with Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Draper and consisted of a three-part lander. A reusable orbital tug that would transfer the descent and ascent stages between low lunar orbit and NASA’s Gateway station, then a reusable ascent stage and expendable descent stage. The heavyweight companies believed their design was superior to SpaceX’s Starship vehicle and stated that “NASA downplayed [SpaceX’s] technical challenges”.

It is unknown if this challenge will force NASA to reselect the lander or nothing will come of this, but if funding is the issue, it will be hard for Blue Origin to compete with SpaceX due to all of the private investment being thrown at Starship.

Dynetics joins in challenging

The third party in the HLS contract competition was Dynetics, who also filed a protest to the Government Accountability Office. They stated they had “issues and concerns with several aspects” with NASA’s choice. Challenges are common to come from companies that did not win contracts. SpaceX sued the Air Force in 2014 after it wasn’t selected to launch any Department of Defense launches, instead going solely with ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.

Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, filed a protest with the GAO regarding the HLS Option A award on April 26th. Dynetics firmly believes our HLS design offers great potential to contribute toward NASA’s HLS program goals and we believe NASA’s initial plan for continued competition remains the best approach to ensure program success.

Dynetics via SpacePolicyOnline.com

Space Explored’s Take

While we would love to see the addition of a second lander for dissimilar redundancy in the HLS program, the selection of SpaceX for the HLS contract seemed to be based on pricing. When it comes to money, SpaceX’s Starship was the most developed and tested lander of the three so it makes sense that this vehicle was selected. While the most recent flights of SpaceX’s developmental Starships have ended in explosions, that specific type of landing is not a concern for lunar missions. The landing procedure on the moon will be radically different than on Earth and development as a whole for Starship seems to be going well.

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