Monday, August 16, 2021

Blue Origin Sues Over SpaceX Contract

Again.  First reported today by The Verge, less than three weeks after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) dismissed the Blue Origin/Dynetics action against NASA for awarding the Human Landing System (HLS) contract to SpaceX, the company filed its lawsuit against NASA with the US Court of Federal Claims today, Monday August 16th.  The suit is reported to refrain the same arguments that GAO refuted on July 30th.   

Blue Origin was one of three firms vying for a contract to land NASA’s first astronauts on the Moon since 1972. In April, NASA shelved the company’s $5.9 billion proposal of its Blue Moon landing system and went with SpaceX’s $2.9 billion Starship proposal instead, opting to pick just one company for the project after saying it might pick two. The contract involves two lunar landings — one test landing without humans, and another with humans — and SpaceX has already received $439 million from NASA to start its work, according to federal data.

For newcomers, we've been reporting on this since the start, but while NASA had expected and wanted to pick two suppliers, congress cut NASA's budget so far that they thought they couldn't afford dual sourcing.  SpaceX's $2.9 billion was almost exactly half of Blue Origin's $5.9 billion bid and unlike BO, SpaceX was closer to demonstrating ready to fly hardware.  NASA saw the bid as getting more for (our) money with SpaceX than the other teams.  Their HLS proposal is based on Starship orbiters, which have flown but not orbited.  BO has never achieved orbit on any of their vehicles.  

After losing the GAO decision, Blue Origin went on a more public smear campaign against SpaceX's plan, releasing this graphic on Twitter.  (The original, at that link, is about four times the size of this.)

Blue Origin targeted SpaceX’s Starship system directly, saying “there are an unprecedented number of technologies, developments, and operations that have never been done before for Starship to land on the Moon.” One critique cast SpaceX’s proposal as overly complex, noting it would take 16 separate Starship launches for each Moon landing.

SpaceX’s rocket system, as proposed to NASA, would require several launches of a fuel tanker version of Starship that would, through some proprietary fueling depot floating in Earth orbit, supply fuel to a lunar lander version of Starship before trekking to the Moon’s surface, according to the GAO. Musk defended this approach in responses to Blue Origin’s critiques on Twitter, saying “16 flights is extremely unlikely” and that a “max of 8” launches would be required for one Starship lunar landing.

Musk went on to add something that only SpaceX could say:

“However, even if it were 16 flights with docking, this is not a problem. SpaceX did more than 16 orbital flights in first half of 2021 & has docked with Station (much harder than docking with our own ship) over 20 times.” 

SpaceX leads every other space company and even every other nation besides China in orbital flights per year.  Again, Blue Origin doesn't have an orbital class rocket and so has zero experience.  

I saw somewhere else that NASA thought SpaceX's plans to launch and rendezvous in low Earth orbit was a fundamentally sounder proposal than to do more in translunar flight or lunar orbit.  

Thanks to a Tweet from Eric Berger of Ars Technica, we find there's a group of Blue Origin employees who have taken to Reddit to tell everyone, "we are NOT like this" referring to these actions from Blue (as they refer to the company).  Eric went on to say:

This will further inflame internal tensions at Blue Origin, which are rising. Many employees are super disappointed in this tactic. It will also make other commercial space companies wary of partnering, and make it super difficult to win any federal contracts in the future.

We may be seeing Blue Origin cutting off its nose to spite its face.  It's easy to imagine no other company wanting to partner with them, and generating enough bad will inside NASA that they'll never drop another contract their way.


  1. Saw a headline for a YouTube video saying BO was closing up. Probably just click-bait, so I didn't watch the video.

    Man, talk about acting like spoiled children! It makes me feel sorry for the people working there.

  2. I read the article over at Teslarati on this same subject. I guess ever since Musk beat Blue Origin in court on the drone ship landing patent, Jeff Bezos has had it out for Elon. Bezos is acting like a petulant and spoiled brat. Blue Origin is so far behind SpaceX, I guess they have to use the Government against SpaceX - New Glenn? BE-4 engine? Orbital flight? I think Bezos is behind some of the other issues that SpaceX/Elon Musk is having in Boca Chica such as the RGV Environmental Group and maybe the FAA.

    On the funny side of things my system (Linux/Firefox) spell checker wanted to replaced Bezos with Bozos. He is beclowning himself. On a similar note, we had a technician in our calibration lab 25 years ago that had the last name of Boswell; the MS Word spell checker kept wanting to correct that to bowels. The person was a pain in the posterior so it was fitting.

  3. It's not surprising. Sadly. Lawfare, and, yes, I do suspect Bezos is behind the constant attacks by the FAA and various environmental groups. Perpetual lawfare.

    It's the actions of a small-minded person. Pull everyone else down to your level, not praise people for achieving. Just look at Musk, he's happy every time someone gets over 60km above the ground. And he's sincere in his happiness. If Bezos' company got its collective poop together and start launching and start actively competing against SpaceX, Musk would be thrilled. And then he'd pull something out of left field that would change the game yet again.

    When I hear Bezos speak or I read his words, my mind supplies a constant soundtrack of crying babies.


    As to Blue Origins, a lot of people transferred over from ULA to BO in order to facilitate the BE4 and other nonsense. Of which, the glacially slow BO got even more slow. Know a person who works at BO. He started out at NASA, and became a known "NO" person there, then transferred to ULA and continued being a "NO" man and now he's a top "NO" man at BO. And his variety of "NO" is the 'insidious nobody can achieve anything' type of no, not the personal, 'No, that won't work and this is why, but we can do this other thing' type of no that work at SpaceX.

    What a.... small needle poking a hole in the tip of my finger (shorten that into something else that starts with 'p'.) Whiny petulant baby. Maybe someone needs to change his diaper.

  4. Those who can, do.
    Those who can't, sue.

  5. Do you doubt that Mr. Bezos owns enough congresscritters to continue government contracts whenever he wants??? Or are you working under the impression "That's not how we do things around here???"

    1. Well, he has played that card already and it hasn't worked.

      Could he buy more of them? The entire acquisition chain? Could be, but they could screw him over, too. Take the money and act like they're going to be his boys, then not do it.

    2. For once, that feckless pandering idiot Bill Nelson actually seems to be on the side of right.

      And most of the congresscritters on the NASA/space subcommittees aren't buying Bezos' bullscat anymore.

      "Ooohhh... give us 5 more years...." "SpaceX says they'll have it done next month." "Oooohhh.. they're gonna kill people..." "So are you, at least they'll do it cheaper."