It has been a long year for Blue Origin. The private aerospace company has tried to toe the line of its bigger competitor, SpaceX, by getting juicy government contracts in order to grow its presence in the industry. But, things didn’t quite pan out for it.
The latest setback has been a ruling against Blue Origin in a suit brought against none other than NASA.
Another Point in a String of Losses
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled against Blue Origin in its suit against NASA, ending a months-long battle over the space agency’s human lander system contract. Judge Richard Hertling, who oversaw the case, issued the short ruling, noting that his court would deny Blue Origin’s motion for judgment.
Blue Origin has been working for a while now to get in on the NASA contract - called Artemis. The space agency had invited private companies to submit proposals for the human lander system. NASA eventually picked SpaceX - among other things, because SpaceX’s proposal had been the most cost-effective.
In Blue Origin’s defense, NASA had initially hinted that it would give the contract to two companies. This immediately put SpaceX and Blue Origin in close contention for the contract. Then, in April, NASA surprised everyone by giving the full thing to SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company won the $2.9 billion contract, leaving Blue Origin and the other competitors fuming.
NASA had explained that it chose SpaceX in part due to financial reasons. But, that didn’t persuade Blur Origin. The company had pulled out all the stops to get things running, including filing a complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). But, after the GAO denied its claims, Blue Origin had no choice but to move into court.
The details of the court’s denial of Blue Origin’s claims are still unknown, but this definitely looks like the end of the road for the company’s plans to get on the Artemis program. In a statement, NASA’s officials explained that they were pleased with the court’s ruling and would like to resume work on Artemis as soon as possible.
Protests from Blue Origin and others had forced NASA to put the SpaceX contract on hold. The complaints pointed out that NASA had favored SpaceX in its selection criteria, and that the agency even allowed SpaceX to revise its application. With the GAO investigating these claims, NASA had to put the contract on hold.
Time to Move Forward
But, now that everything is done with, NASA has expressed an eagerness to get things on the road once more. Regardless, the agency also expressed a willingness to work with other companies - including Blue Origin - in the future. The company explained in its statement:
"In addition to this contract, NASA continues working with multiple American companies to bolster competition and commercial readiness for crewed transportation to the lunar surface. There will be forthcoming opportunities for companies to partner with NASA in establishing a long-term human presence at the moon under the agency’s Artemis program, including a call in 2022 to U.S. industry for recurring crewed lunar landing services."
Blue Origin also appears to have conceded defeat in the case. In a tweet, Blue Origin’s founder Jeff Bezos explained that the ruling was definitely not what they had hoped. But, they would take it in good faith and wish NASA and SpaceX all the luck in the future.
Regardless, Blue Origin remains committed to working on Artemis if the opportunity comes up. In a statement to news sources, the company explained that the current human lander system procurement process is fraught with several safety issues. Blue Origin pointed out that these safety issues were the primary reason why it raised its complaint and lawsuit in the first place.
"Returning astronauts safely to the moon through NASA’s public-private partnership model requires an unprejudiced procurement process alongside sound policy that incorporates redundant systems and promotes competition," the company said, adding that it would still work closely with NASA to ensure that the United States achieves the objective of safely returning to the moon.
As for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, he reacted with a simple meme.
A Lot to Look Forward to Regardless
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Blue Origin is losing on all fronts. The company remains important to the private aerospace industry, and there is little doubt that it will work with NASA at some point in the future.
Blue Origin is also putting the initial touches on the Orbital Reef - a private space station that it hopes to launch between 2025 and 2030. The Orbital Reef is a partnership between Blue Origin and several other companies - including Sierra Space, Boeing, Redwire Space. The facility has been billed as a “mixed-use business park,” offering access to several services for individuals, companies, and governments.
Support for the Orbital Reef is still in its early stages, and we’re eager to see how Blue Origin and its partners plan to fund it. However, if there’s anyone that should be able to get a project of this scale into orbit, it is definitely Blue Origin.