Blue Origin, the space company owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, filed a lawsuit in the US federal court to challenge the lucrative Nasa Moon landing contract awarded solely to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The lawsuit comes weeks after the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected Blue Origin’s protest of Nasa’s decision to award the $2.9 billion contract to rival private space company SpaceX to exclusively develop the human landing system.
The lawsuit is “an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in Nasa’s human landing system”, Blue Origin said in a statement.
“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,” it added.
The US plans to return to the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis programme. It aims to use the experience and lessons learnt during the process to prepare for a full-fledged crewed Mars mission in the 2030s.
Last month, Mr Bezos also wrote an open letter to Nasa offering a $2bn discount to allow his company to build a Moon lander.
It would “bridge the funding shortfall” that led Nasa to select only one company, Mr Bezos said in the letter, adding that the selection of more companies will promote competition.
“This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright permanent waiver,” Mr Bezos said at the time.
“We stand ready to help Nasa moderate its technical risks and solve its budgetary constraints and put the Artemis Programme back on a more competitive, credible and sustainable path.”
In last month’s protest filed to the GAO, Blue Origin argued that Nasa was required to make multiple awards and it “unreasonably” evaluated the proposals of other contenders.
“SpaceX submitted the lowest-priced proposal with the highest rating … the offers submitted by Blue Origin and Dynetics [the third contender for the Moon landing contract] were significantly higher in price,” Nasa said in its justification to award the contract solely to SpaceX.
“Nasa also concluded that the agency lacked the necessary funding to make more than one award.”
Nasa’s human landing system is one of the most important projects of the agency in recent times. Blue Origin had been trying to get the contract for some years.
Last year, Nasa awarded a $579 million contract to a Blue Origin-led team in the initial phase of the project. At the same time, Alabama-based defence contractor Dynetics and SpaceX were awarded contracts worth $253m and $135m, respectively.
However, in April this year, Nasa selected only SpaceX to develop the first spacecraft for human landing on the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972.
The development of Mr Bezos’ Blue Origin lags Mr Musk’s SpaceX on a number of fronts. It is also running behind its own deadlines and launch schedules.
Blue Origin's rocket, which has a reusable booster, was expected to debut last year but it is not expected to fly until the end of next year. SpaceX’s orbital rockets, particularly the Falcon 9, currently dominate the industry. SpaceX, which runs Starlink, the biggest satellite network in the world, is also developing its own reusable rocket Starship.
Meanwhile, SpaceX has been delivering cargo to the International Space Station since 2012, SpaceX said on its website. In 2020, it began transporting people to the ISS under Nasa's Commercial Crew Programme, it added.