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NASA suspends SpaceX’s $ 2.9 billion lunar landing deal after rivals protest

NASA has halted work on SpaceX’s new $ 2.9 billion landing contract, while a federal watchdog condemns two protests over the award, the agency said Friday.

Putting the Human Landing System (or HLS) on hold until GAO makes a decision on the two protests means that SpaceX will not immediately receive its first installment of the $ 2.9 billion award, nor will the initial talks with NASA be normal. would take place at the start of a major contract.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX was picked by NASA on April 16 to build the agency’s first human lunar land since the Apollo program, as the agency chose to rely on just one company for a high-profile contract that many in the space industry expected to go to two companies.

As a result, two companies that ran for the contract, Blue Origin and Dynetics, protested NASA̵

7;s decision to the Government Accountability Office, which judges bids. Blue Origin claims the agency unfairly “moved the goalposts at the last minute” and threatened NASA’s fast 2024 timeline by simply choosing SpaceX.

“In accordance with the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that the progress of the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves any outstanding lawsuits related to this acquisition,” NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt said in a statement.

Starship, SpaceX’s fully reusable missile system under development to eventually transport humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars, won NASA’s award mainly for its enormous cargo capacity and the proposed $ 2.9 billion bid – far cheaper than Blue Origin and Dynetics, according to a NASA Source Selection Document.

Starship’s development to this point has been primarily driven by Musk, SpaceX’s billionaire founder and CEO. The company has launched several Starship prototypes in test and short flights at short and high altitudes at Boca Chica, Texas, launch facility. Landing the prototypes after hovering over 60 km in the air has proved to be a formidable challenge – all of SpaceX’s high-altitude prototype rockets have been destroyed in land phase explosions.

SpaceX’s private Starship development is likely to continue. The company’s latest test of a Starship prototype, SN15, will be launched in the next few days after approval by the Federal Aviation Administration for approval this week.

NASA has said that choosing one company was the best decision it could make at the time with the funds made available by Congress. Last year, Congress gave the agency $ 850 million of the $ 3.3 billion it requested to provide two lunar landers.

SpaceX’s award was an important “first step” in a broader program to secure transport to the moon, said NASA’s human space editor Kathy Lueders at the time, promising that new contract opportunities will open up in the near future.

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