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NASA suspends SpaceX’s 2.9 billion $ contract after protests

NASA has suspended work on SpaceX’s new $ 2.9 billion lunar lander contract, while a federal watchdog agency has voiced two protests over the award, the agency said Friday.

By putting the work of the Human Landing System (or HLS) on hold until the GAO makes a decision on the two protests, SpaceX will not immediately receive its first installment of the $ 2.9 billion prize, nor will it begin with the first conversations with NASA that would normally happen. take place when entering into a major contract.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX was selected by NASA on April 16 to build the agency’s first human lunar lander since the Apollo program, as the agency chose to rely on just one company for a high-profile contract many in the space industry expected it would go to two. businesses.

As a result, two companies in the running for the contract, Blue Origin and Dynetics, protested NASA’s decision with the Government Accountability Office, which is ruling on bid disputes. Blue Origin claims the agency falsely “moved the goalposts at the last minute” and compromised NASA’s fast-paced 2024 timeline by choosing only SpaceX.

“In response to the GAO protests, NASA has instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract will be suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding disputes related to this tender,” NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt said in a statement.

Starship, SpaceX’s fully reusable rocket system under development to eventually transport humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars, won the NASA award primarily for its massive cargo capacity and proposed $ 2.9 billion offer – much cheaper than that from Blue Origin and Dynetics, ”according to a NASA source selection document.

Starship’s development to date has been primarily driven by Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX. The company has launched several Starship prototypes in short and high altitude test flights at its launch facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Landing the prototypes after ascending more than six miles in the air has proved a daunting challenge – all of SpaceX’s high-altitude prototypes have been destroyed in landing stage explosions.

SpaceX’s private Starship development is likely to continue. The company’s most recent test of a Starship prototype, SN15, is expected to be launched in the coming days following the Federal Aviation Administration’s license approval this week.

NASA has said that choosing one company was the best decision it could make at the time with the resources made available by Congress. Last year, Congress gave the agency $ 850 million of the $ 3.3 billion it requested to purchase two lunar landers.

The SpaceX award was an important “ first step ” in a broader program to secure transportation to the moon, said NASA’s manned space flight chief Kathy Lueders at the time, and promised new contract opportunities will emerge in the near future.