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SpaceX Gets OK for NASA Contract After Protests

Jeff Bezos' aerospace company Blue Origin lost its bid to block Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. from securing a nearly $3 billion NASA contract to land astronauts on the moon.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office ruled in favor of NASA awarding a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to SpaceX on July 30. The competitive contract had been suspended since April when South Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin and Huntsville, Ala.-based defense contractor Dynetics Inc. filed a protest days after it was awarded, calling the contract unfair.

Under the contract, SpaceX will develop a “commercial human lander” to take two astronauts to the surface of the moon, NASA said in April when it first awarded the contract to the company.

“The GAO’s decision will allow NASA and SpaceX to establish a timeline for the first crewed landing on the Moon in more than 50 years,” NASA said in a statement on July 30.

The dispute arose when NASA was given a smaller budget for the lunar lander project than it expected. The agency scrapped its original plan to contract two companies for the lunar lander, choosing SpaceX alone for the project on April 16. Blue Origin and Dynetics submitted a protest on April 26.

On July 26, Bezos attempted to sway the bid in Blue Origin’s favor, offering to waive $2 billion in fees for NASA if the agency chose his company for the mission instead.

“In the challenge filed at GAO, the protesters argued that the agency was required to make multiple awards consistent with the announcement’s stated preference for multiple awards,” the Government Accountability Office said in a statement. “In denying the protests, GAO first concluded that NASA did not violate procurement law or regulation when it decided to make only one award.”

The contract is one of several that NASA has awarded to SpaceX. On July 23, the company was awarded a $178 million contract for launch services for the agency’s mission to investigate Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The mission, called Europa Clipper, is scheduled for October 2024 and will utilize SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket. 

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