SpaceX is working to break away from its rivals and become the undisputed leader in commercial spaceflight operations. However, the company’s efforts have continued to face significant pushback, especially from the rivals who look to stifle its success.
In a new twist to the never-ending saga, these rivals succeeded in dealing SpaceX a bit of a blow. Now, everything is potentially open again, marking the latest struggle between commercial spaceflight giants.
Everything Started So Rosily
As many recall, NASA has been making significant moves towards its mission to launch even more crews to the moon - and possibly even Mars in the nearest future. The agency had sent out a contract proposal, asking several private space companies to submit proposals on a lunar lander system to accompany its rockets.
SpaceX eventually won the contract, thanks partly to its ability to submit a much cheaper bid than its rivals - including Blue Origin and Dynetics. SpaceX's success primarily came from the fact that it is an independent entity. Most of its rivals are partnering with other companies, many of which are public. So, these partner companies have a more significant incentive to drive up prices and optimize their profits.
SpaceX, on the other hand, is working alone. So, the company can provide a much lower price and work on a cheaper tab. The company’s bid was priced at about $2.9 billion, while Blue Origin’s proposal carried a $5.9 billion price tag. Dynetics’ offer, although undisclosed, was believed to be even more expensive than that of Blue Origin.
NASA has struggled to get the money it needs for projects recently. According to a report from Planetary Society, it requested $3 billion for the lunar lander system from Congress, but it reportedly only got 25 percent of what it asked for. With NASA appearing to favor price over any other parameter, working with SpaceX seemed to be the logical choice.
Sadly, not everyone was thrilled that SpaceX managed to win this contract. Blue Origin and Dynetics filed a complaint with the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), accusing NASA of moving the goalpost at a later hour to favor SpaceX.
Rivals Angry at the SpaceX Deal
In their protests, Blue Origin and Dynetics claimed that NASA had given SpaceX an unfair advantage, even asking the company to revise its proposal to better align with its budget. They also alleged that NASA allowed SpaceX to renegotiate its price without doing the same for them - especially since their proposals were more expensive than SpaceX’s
While many believed that Blue Origin and Dynetics won’t get much audience with their complaints, it was evident that their connections would do something. Eventually, NASA had to tell SpaceX to halt work on the lunar lander system until the Government Accountability Office was done with its inquiry. The decision meant that SpaceX had to stop any work related to the project until the Office’s ruling, which would come at least on August 4, per a CNBC report.
What Does This Mean?
For now, it’s too soon to say. The Government Accountability Office will have a lot of work to do to revise the contract and get a proper ruling going, and that in itself will take time. The problem, for now, is what could happen if they find that NASA did indeed give SpaceX an unfair advantage.
If SpaceX’s contract gets revoked, Blue Origin and Dynetics could get the opportunity to modify their contracts and challenge SpaceX. As stated earlier, Blue Origin’s contract was $3 billion higher than SpaceX’s. Dynetics' undisclosed offer was even more expensive. With their obligations to profit-seeking partners, it is challenging to see how they can reduce their price quotes so much to match SpaceX. Still, they seem willing to take on the challenge.
SpaceX Isn’t Laying About
While the problem still lingers, SpaceX is moving on to its other projects. The company is notorious for being occupied across the board, and it won’t let this challenge pull it back.
Earlier this month, sources confirmed that Starlink - SpaceX’s satellite pet project- had been in talks with the Nigerian government to expand its program into the African country. With Nigeria still having a significant portion of its population without access to proper internet services, Starlink and SpaceX could have a massive opportunity across the board.
SpaceX also secured approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch several satellites in a lower orbit. At the very least, the approval shows that SpaceX will be able to continue with the Starlink project and see it through. Starlink already had over 500,000 pre-orders, showing that market sentiment for it is positive.
To be clear, the prevalent sentiment remains that SpaceX will be able to win NASA over, and the complaints filed by Blue Origin and Dynetics won’t amount to much. Still, it seems evident that SpaceX itself won’t be overly affected if the NASA deal ends up falling through.