By all indications, a U.S. return to the Moon hangs in the balance, with plans apparently set to be dictated by litigation.
Blue Origin, an aerospace company owned by Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The suit is seeking to overturn a NASA decision to award the $2.9 billion Artemis lunar lander contract to Elon Musk's SpaceX, Reuters reported.
Blue Origin Seeks to 'Restore Fairness, Create Competition, Safe Moon Return'
According to a statement sent to CNBC, Blue Origin seeks to "remedy the flaws in the acquisition process," while stating the issues it addresses in the legal action would "restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America."
With this court suit, NASA and SpaceX have reached a major stumbling block in proceeding with the crewed mission to the Moon by the mid-2020s.
In its motion to file the suit under seal on Friday, Blue Origin said it was questioning NASA 's"improper award" of the contract to SpaceX, which would further delay the scheduled mission launch in 2024, UPI indicated in a report.
NASA previously planned to award human landing system (HLS) contracts to two aerospace companies for the construction of two lunar landers for the Artemis program. However, NASA instead awarded a sole $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX, justifying that their decision was due to a lack of Congressional funding.
In a statement sent to Reuters, NASA said the U.S. space agency's officials are "currently reviewing details of the case." NASA added that despite the court action, it will still continue its bid in going to the Moon. It also vowed to provide more updates on the Artemis initiative for a safe and quick way to return to the Moon.
Blue Origin's suit remains under seal, with NASA being ordered to file a response to the charges by October 12.
The lawsuit comes two weeks after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) junked Blue Origin's protest, upholding NASA's contract with SpaceX. The GAO said it found no basis in supporting Blue Origin's claim that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX.
Blue Origin Claims SpaceX's Starship Unfit for Moon Mission, Musk Responds
After it lost the lucrative contract, Blue Origin went on the offensive against SpaceX--particularly on its next-generation Starship that will be used for the lunar missions. Per CNBC, the company claimed Starship lacks the "technologies, developments, and operations" for a targeted lunar mission, and stressed that the SpaceX launch vehicle "has never flown to orbit and is still being designed."
In response, Musk mocked Blue Origin and its capabilities in a tweet:
The sad thing is that even if Santa Claus suddenly made their hardware real for free, the first thing you’d want to do is cancel it— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 13, 2021
SpaceX will use a modified Starship rocket for the lunar mission that is currently being developed at the company's facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Blue Origin, meanwhile, had planned to utilize a system that includes an ascent module, which is quite akin to the Apollo-era spacecraft.
Blue Origin's bid costs $5.9 billion, which is twice the amount proposed by SpaceX. However, Bezos wrote to NASA in July and stressed that Blue Origin will waive $2 billion in payments and shoulder the pathfinder mission cost to test its lander in Earth orbit.