X

Blue Origin loses legal challenge over NASA's choice of SpaceX and Starship

The space agency wants only Elon Musk to send Artemis astronauts to the moon. Now a federal judge has backed up the choice.

img-20200924-185317
img-20200924-185317
Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/ Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack
2 min read
A rendering of SpaceX's Starship on the moon.

A rendering of SpaceX's Starship on the moon.

SpaceX

NASA is free to begin moving ahead with its plan to work with SpaceX on sending Elon Musk's Starship to the moon, much to the chagrin of Blue Origin, the competing space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. 

On Thursday, the US Court of Federal Claims dismissed a lawsuit brought against NASA by Blue Origin. The company was challenging the space agency's decision to award SpaceX the sole contract to build a human landing system for NASA's Artemis program. 

The full opinion by Judge Richard Hertling explaining his decision hasn't yet been publicly released. The lawsuit was originally filed under seal to protect trade secrets and later released in redacted form. The ruling will go through the same process, in which the parties involved propose redactions before it's made public. 

The decision against Blue Origin follows a protest filed with the US Government Accountability Office earlier this year. The GAO later found that NASA hadn't done anything wrong in selecting SpaceX over Blue Origin and a third bidder, Dynetics. 

"Our lawsuit with the Court of Federal Claims highlighted the important safety issues with the Human Landing System procurement process that must still be addressed," a Blue Origin spokesperson said in an email to CNET. "Returning astronauts safely to the moon through NASA's public-private partnership model requires an unprejudiced procurement process alongside sound policy that incorporates redundant systems and promotes competition."

SpaceX didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk replied to a post on Twitter about the news with a cheeky meme, showing an image of comic book character Judge Dredd with the caption, "You have been judged!"

The ruling clears the way for NASA and SpaceX to resume coordinating on Starship and the Artemis mission. NASA had voluntarily opted to stop work on the contract while the lawsuit was under review. 

"NASA will resume work with SpaceX under the Option A contract as soon as possible," the agency wrote in an emailed statement. It added: "There will be forthcoming opportunities for companies to partner with NASA in establishing a long-term human presence at the moon under the agency's Artemis program." 

SpaceX, meanwhile, has continued developing Starship at its Boca Chica, Texas, facility and is currently awaiting environmental clearance and a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration for the mega-rocket's first orbital test flight. 

Blue Origin didn't respond to a question about whether it plans to appeal or pursue other legal avenues regarding the contract for the human landing system.