NASA suspends $2.9B SpaceX lunar lander project amid protests

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Washington: Amid protests from Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin, the US space agency has suspended work on the $2.9 billion lunar lander contract given to Elon Musk-owned SpaceX.

Blue Origin had filed a protest with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) against NASA for awarding $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX for landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024. 

The US space agency was expected to pick two lunar lander prototypes (including one of Blue Origin’s) but funding cut from US Congress led the agency to select SpaceX over Blue Origin.

“Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement,” NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt said in a statement, reports The Verge.

The third company in the race, Dynetics, also protested NASA’s decision to the GAO, which adjudicates bidding disputes. 

SpaceX’s award was a key “first step” in a broader programme to secure transportation to the Moon.

In a 175-page protest, Blue Origin accused NASA of misjudging several parts of its proposal for its lunar lander called Blue Moon.

“NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System programme and moved the goalposts at the last minute,” Blue Origin said in a statement.

Calling NASA’s decision “high risk,” the company said that the decision “eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America’s return to the Moon. Because of that, we’ve filed a protest with the GAO”.

Musk responded to Blue Origin’s protest with a tweet: “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol”.

The contract is part of NASA’s Artemis programme, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 as a stepping stone to the first human mission to Mars.

Four astronauts aboard the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon-2 arrived at the International Space Station this week for a six-month mission.