Blue Origin Loses HLS Court Case

Blue Origin Loses HLS Court Case

Blue Origin’s lawsuit against NASA for awarding SpaceX the only contract for a lunar landing system was rejected today by the Court of Federal Claims. The opinion itself is sealed for now, but in a public document Judge Richard Hertling granted NASA’s motion to dismiss.

Hertling ordered the parties to meet and confer by November 18, 2021 to propose redactions so the opinion can be made public. Until then, a protective order remains in force prohibiting any of the parties — Plaintiff Blue Origin, Defendant NASA, and Defendant-Intervenor SpaceX — from disclosing what it says.

What is known so far is in the Order of Judgment.


Blue Origin maintained that NASA’s acquisition process for a Human Landing System (HLS) to put astronauts back on the Moon as part of the Artemis program was flawed. NASA awarded a contract only to SpaceX even though it had wanted two suppliers because Congress provided only 25 percent of the funding it had requested for FY2021.

After losing a protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Blue Origin took the matter to federal court, but with the same outcome.

A Blue Origin spokesperson said in a statement after the court ruling that its lawsuit highlighted “important saftety issues” with the procurement that “must still be addressed.” Getting astronauts safely back on the Moon “requires an unprejudiced procurement process alongside sound policy that incorporates redundant systems and promotes competition.” Nonetheless, the statement listed a number of lunar-related programs where it is under contract to NASA already and looks “forward to hearing from NASA on next steps in the HLS procurement process.”

Company founder Jeff Bezos tweeted “Not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract.”

Illustration of SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System (HLS) for the Moon. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s work on its Starship system under the NASA “Option A” contract has been suspended during the GAO protest and this court case, but the company is continuing work with its own funds. Starship is the centerpiece of Elon Musk’s vision of sending a million people to Mars, but he is designing it to go anywhere and land anywhere in the solar system, including the Moon.

In a statement today, NASA said it will resume work with SpaceX “as soon as possible.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Musk issued a graphic tweet.

NASA is planning a sustained program of lunar exploration and operations with commercial and international partners that is envisioned as using more than one type of lunar lander. It already has opened a solicitation, “Appendix N” of the NextSTEP-2 Broad Agency Announcement, for concepts for Lunar Exploration Transportation Systems (LETS) to follow Starship. It made five awards on September 20 to the same five companies that had competed for Option A, including Blue Origin.


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