NASA “Pauses” HLS Contract With SpaceX

NASA “Pauses” HLS Contract With SpaceX

In light of Blue Origin’s lawsuit against NASA for awarding only SpaceX a contract for a lunar lander, NASA has “voluntarily paused work” with SpaceX. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos is suing NASA in the Court of Federal Claims insisting NASA’s acquisition decision was flawed even though the Government Accountability Office rejected the company’s protest.

Blue Origin filed its lawsuit last Friday, August 13, which SpaceX since has joined as an intervenor.

Today, NASA issued the following statement.

NASA has voluntarily paused work with SpaceX for the human landing system (HLS) Option A contract effective Aug. 19 through Nov. 1. In exchange for this temporary stay of work, all parties agreed to an expedited litigation schedule that concludes on Nov. 1. NASA officials are continuing to work with the Department of Justice to review the details of the case and look forward to a timely resolution of this matter.

NASA is committed to Artemis and to maintaining the nation’s global leadership in space exploration. With our partners, we will go to the Moon and stay to enable science investigations, develop new technology, and create high paying jobs for the greater good and in preparation to send astronauts to Mars.

The Biden Administration adopted the 2024 deadline set by the Trump Administration to get people back on the Moon — the Artemis program — despite widespread skepticism it can be met for technical and budgetary reasons.

Human Landing System (HLS) concept proposed by Blue Origin and its National Team including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. Credit: Blue Origin

SpaceX, Dynetics and Blue Origin with its “National Team” including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper, won initial 10-month contracts in April 2020 to further their designs under what NASA calls the “Option A” contract. It planned to pick two of the three to move on to the next phase of design and development in February 2021, but Congress appropriated only 25 percent of what NASA said it needed in FY2021. The Option A contracts were extended on a no-cost basis for a few months while NASA weighed its options.

In April, the agency chose SpaceX, and only SpaceX, because of the funding shortfall. Blue Origin and Dynetics protested the award to GAO, prompting the first stop-work order.

GAO ruled in NASA’s favor on July 30 and NASA resumed the SpaceX contract, but Blue Origin now is taking its complaint to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Days before the GAO decision, Bezos offered to waive $2 billion of the National Team’s $5.9 billion bid and asked NASA to extend its Option A award until November 1. That is the date set in the agreement NASA announced today for the end of expedited litigation.

SpaceX is continuing the development of its system, Starship, nonetheless at its own expense. Company founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted over the weekend that he expects the first orbital test flight “in a few weeks, pending only regulatory approval.”

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