the better they sleep at night. Allegedly said by Otto von Bismarck.
A followup to the story about Blue Origin and Dynetics suing NASA over awarding the Human Landing System contract exclusively to SpaceX from Teslarati's senior spaceflight reporter, Eric Ralph.
The real headline here is from Space Policy Online, a site that tracks the legislative and developmental sides of those policies. Bear in mind this paragraph was posted on May 19th.
The Senate will take up the United States Innovation and Competition Act today. That legislation incorporates the 2021 NASA Authorization Act approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last week, but one of the most controversial provisions was modified and now provides a level of protection for the contract awarded to SpaceX for the Artemis program’s Human Landing System (HLS). It also extends the deadline for NASA to comply with a requirement that it choose a second HLS contractor.
The "controversial provision" is an amendment to USIC Act (the first one mentioned) by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Senator from Washington means Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin are both in her district - not to mention Jeff's other little company Amazon - so it's hardly surprising Bezos' crew would try to lobby Sen. Cantwell (or leave a horse's head in her bed). On May 12th, Cantwell introduced an amendment that would purportedly
“maintain competitiveness” by forcing NASA to select a second HLS winner
in addition to SpaceX. Without irony, the authorization bill also demanded that NASA make that decision within a mere 30 days, although that was later relaxed to 60 days.
Since NASA was essentially forced to downselect to one contractor by their budget shortfall simply telling them to add a second contractor doesn't make much sense, but it actually gets worse. Cantwell added to legislation that NASA was Authorized to add $10 billion for choosing the second contractor. I rush to add that she can't do that because she can't provide money to NASA. Authorization bills set policy, they don't provide funding. Only appropriations bills actually provide money to agencies. In the original story, I mentioned that NASA had requested $3.3 billion in funding for this fiscal year to meet the goal of landing humans on the Moon by 2024. Congress provided just $850 million. They would have rather had more than one contractor but couldn't do it on just over 25% of what they needed.
Additionally, while still amounting to a legal gun to NASA’s head to force it to into a contract it knows it cant afford, the modification gives NASA 60 days to award a second lander contract. Based on the agency’s own selection statement, Blue Origin’s National Team would almost certainly be the recipient in the event that the bill becomes law, forcing NASA to commit more than $9 billion – instead of $2.9 billion – to the next stage of HLS development with no guarantee that its budget will be raised accordingly.
That's right - SpaceX got the $2.9 billion contract and Sen. Cantwell is apparently trying to force NASA to give about $7 billion to Blue Origin.
(Left is SpaceX concept art, right is photo of SN15 by BocaChicaGal for NASASpaceflight.com)
In the debates over the USIC Act, a clause was added clarifying that NASA is not allowed to “modify, terminate, or rescind” SpaceX’s HLS contract to comply with the amendment. Meanwhile, the protest that both Blue Origin and Dynetics filed over SpaceX getting the contract is in the hands of the General Accounting Office to examine the merits of their arguments.