NASA Would Receive $4.4 Billion Under House Bill; DOE’s Radioisotope Processing Facility Funding Increased

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would received an additional $4.4 billion to perform repairs and upgrades on its aging infrastructure, conduct climate change research and development (R&D) and improve cybersecurity under an infrastructure spending bill now under consideration by the House of Representatives.

The funding does not include any money to fund a second human lander for NASA’s Artemis program that would likely have gone to the National Team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The space agency awarded a single source contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

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NASA Statement on Blue Origin Lawsuit with the United States Court of Federal Claims

NASA public affairs has issued this statement:

“NASA was notified that Blue Origin filed a bid protest with the United States Court of Federal Claims (COFC) following the denial of the protests filed with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding NASA’s selection for the human landing system (HLS) Option A award. NASA officials are currently reviewing details of the case.

NASA is committed to the Artemis program and the nation’s global leadership in space exploration. With our partners, we will go to the Moon and stay to enable science investigations, develop new technology, and create high paying jobs for the greater good and in preparation to send astronauts to Mars. As soon as possible, the agency will provide an update on the way forward for returning to the Moon as quickly and as safely as possible under Artemis.”

Blue Origin Sues in Federal Court Over Human Landing System Contract Loss

The National Team’s engineering mockup of the crew lander vehicle at NASA Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) iconic Building  9. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has filed a lawsuit over its failure to win a NASA Human Landing System to return astronauts to the lunar surface. The lawsuit follows the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) rejection last month of its appeal of the space agency’s decision to award a single contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Reuters reports:

Blue Origin said its lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on Friday is “an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System.”

It added it believes “the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America.”

Blue Origin’s lawsuit remains under seal. NASA must file a response to the challenge by Oct. 12.

Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics have argued that NASA was required to make multiple awards. The GAO said it “denied the protest arguments that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX.”

The appeal will likely further delay SpaceX’s development of its lander, which is based on the company’s Starship vehicle.

NASA IG Says: Lunar Spacesuits Behind Schedule, Would Not be Ready for 2024 Landing

Artemis and Orion spacesuits. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s 14-year effort to build lunar suits is going to consume more than $1 billion and will deliver working products after the space agency’s goal of landing two astronauts at the moon south pole in 2024, according to a new audit from NASA’s Inspector General.

“NASA’s current schedule is to produce the first two flight-ready xEMUs by November 2024, but the Agency faces significant challenges in meeting this goal,” the report said. “This schedule includes approximately a 20-month delay in delivery for the planned design, verification, and testing suit, two qualification suits, an ISS Demo suit, and two lunar flight suits.

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Blue Origin Says: SpaceX’s Starship Lander Too Complex & Risky

Credit: Blue Origin

In the wake of losing its protest over NASA’s decision to award the Human Landing System contract to SpaceX, Blue Origin has released an information graphic calling the Starship system “immensely complex & high risk.”

The comparison on the right shows the distance from the surface to the hatches of the two vehicles. The text from the infographic is reproduced below.

LUNAR STARSHIP: IMMENSELY COMPLEX & HIGH RISK

There are an unprecedented number of technologies, developments, and operations that have never been done before for Starship to land on the Moon. This includes developing Super Heavy – not only the largest launch vehicle stage ever produced, but one that has to be reusable – and Starship – the first ever reusable second stage. Then, the two systems must work together. A launch site in Boca Chica, Texas that has never conducted an orbital launch must demonstrate the ability to do so 7-11 times within 1-week increments. And cryogenic fluid transfer – a process that has also never been done – must work to refuel up to 100 MT of propellants from Starship to Starship that also requires development of a new tanker Starship variant. Finally, for just a single Starship lunar landing, this must all be done more than 10 times flawlessly. This is so that Starship can get to the surface and back with a single-stage ascent/descent vehicle, without dissimilar redundancy in abort engines.

NATIONAL TEAM: SAFE, LOW-RISK, FAST

The National Team’s architecture only requires three launches and is flexible to fly on multiple existing launch vehicles with far fewer in-space rendezvouses. Further, the system is entirely built on heritage systems and proven technologies that are flying today.

  • FROM NASA SOURCE SELECTION STATEMENT: “While I find the positive aspects of SpaceX’s technical approach to be notably thoughtful and meritorious, these aspects are, however, tempered by its complexity and relatively high-risk nature… I acknowledge the immense complexity and heightened risk associated with the very high number of events necessary to execute the front end of SpaceX’s mission, and this complexity largely translates into increased risk of operational schedule delays.”

NASA Statement on GAO Ruling Regarding Human Landing System Protest

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The following is the NASA statement in response to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision released Friday on the human landing system protest:

“NASA was notified Friday, July 30, that the U.S. Government Accountability Office has denied the protests filed by Blue Origin Federation and Dynetics and has upheld the agency’s source selection of SpaceX to continue the development of its human landing system. The decision enables NASA to award the contract that will ultimately result in the first crewed demonstration landing on the surface of the Moon under NASA’s Artemis plan. Importantly, 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 recognizes that sending American astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program and establishing a long-term presence on the Moon is a priority for the Biden Administration and is imperative for maintaining American leadership in space. In the face of challenges during the last year, NASA and its partners have made significant achievements to advance Artemis, including a successful hot fire test for the Space Launch System rocket. An uncrewed flight of Artemis I is on track for this year and a crewed Artemis II mission is planned for 2023. 

“NASA is moving forward with urgency, but astronaut safety is the priority and the agency will not sacrifice the safety of the crew in the steadfast pursuit of the goal to establish a long-term presence on the Moon.

“As soon as possible, NASA will provide an update on the way ahead for Artemis, the human landing system, and humanity’s return to the Moon. We will continue to work with the Biden Administration and Congress to ensure funding for a robust and sustainable approach for the nation’s return to the Moon in a collaborative effort with U.S. commercial partners.” 

GAO Denies Human Landing System Protests by Blue Origin & Dynetics, Affirms SpaceX Award

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (GAO PR) — On Friday, July 30, 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied protests filed by Blue Origin Federation, LLC, of South Kent, Washington, and Dynetics, Inc. – A Leidos Company, of Huntsville, Alabama.  The protesters challenged their non-selection for awards and the award of optional contract line item numbers to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, under Option A to Appendix H of Broad Agency Announcement (the announcement) No. NNH19ZCQ001K. Broad Agency Announcements typically provide for the acquisition of basic and applied research for new and creative research or development solutions to scientific and engineering problems. The rules for these procurements are not the same as those for standard competitive federal procurements, as agencies generally enjoy broader discretion in selecting the proposals most suitable to meeting their research and development needs when utilizing broad agency announcement procedures.  The announcement was issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), for a demonstration mission for a human landing system for lunar exploration.  

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Bezos Offers to Cover Up to $2 Billion in Costs if NASA Awards Human Landing System Contract to National Team

Artist concept of the Blue Origin National Team crewed lander on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Editor’s Note: The Government Accountability Office is due to announce a ruling on Aug. 4 concerning the protests lodged by the Blue Origin-led National Team and Dynetics over NASA’s decision to award SpaceX a single-source contract for the Human Landing System that will take astronauts to the lunar surface. The letter below seems as much aimed at Congress, which could provide funds for a second contract, as it is to NASA.

Jeff Bezos Letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson

In an open letter to the NASA Administrator, Jeff Bezos offers to restore competition to the Human Landing System program by closing NASA’s near-term budgetary shortfall and producing a safe and sustainable lander that will return Americans to the surface of the Moon – this time to stay.

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NASA Artemis Program Faces Significant Challenges on Human Lunar Landing in 2024

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The combination of an ambitious schedule, technical challenges and immature technology will make it difficult for NASA to meet its goal of landing two astronauts on the moon in 2024, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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NASA Deep Space Exploration Budget Request Fact Sheet

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

NASA FACT SHEET
FY 2022 Budget Request
Deep Space Exploration Systems
($ Millions)

The FY 2022 Budget for the Deep Space Exploration Systems account consists of two areas, Exploration Systems Development (ESD) and Exploration Research and Development (ERD), which provide for the development of systems and capabilities needed for the human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

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SpaceX Successfully Lands Starship SN15 in Major Program Milestone

Starship SN15 takes off on May 5, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX website)

SpaceX successfully launched and landed its SN15 Starship after a 6 minute 8 second flight to 10 km from its Boca Chica test facility in Texas.

It marked the first time SpaceX has successfully landed a Starship prototype. Video of the flight indicates it touched down on the edge of the landing pad with two its three Raptor engines firing.

SN15 after landing. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX is developing Starship for crewed voyages to the moon and Mars and point to point travel between distant locations on Earth. NASA recently awarded the company a contract worth $2.9 billion to adapt Starship for use the Human Landing System that will take astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program.

Blue Origin Challenges NASA Human Lunar Landing System Award to SpaceX

Artist concept of the Blue Origin National Team crewed lander on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Blue Origin)

The New York Times reports that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has challenged NASA’s decision to award a $2.9 billion contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop the Human Landing System designed to return astronauts to the moon as part of the space agency’s Artemis program.

Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said NASA’s decision was based on flawed evaluations of the bids — misjudging advantages of Blue Origin’s proposal and downplaying technical challenges in SpaceX’s. He also said NASA had placed a bigger emphasis on bottom-line cost than it said it would.

“It’s really atypical for NASA to make these kinds of errors,” Mr. Smith said in an interview. “They’re generally quite good at acquisition, especially its flagship missions like returning America to the surface of the moon. We felt that these errors needed to be addressed and remedied.”

He added that in any case, the space agency should have stuck with a desire it had stated many times, of wanting to hand out awards to two companies.

Blue Origin’s National Team included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. Dynetics was the other unsuccessful bidder to submit a proposal.

SpaceX won the contract with a proposal that will use a version of the company’s Starship vehicle, which is currently undergoing testing in Boca Chica, Texas.

The Government Accountability Office will now review the award and render a decision.

Surprise! NASA Artemis Lunar Program Schedule Likely to Slip Again, 2024 Landing Unlikely

An astronaut descends the ladder to explore the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The latest in a series of updates from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) says that despite making significant progress on the $86 billion Artemis program, the space agency’s schedule for returning astronauts to the moon in four years is likely to slip. [Full report]

“Nonetheless, the Agency faces significant challenges that we believe will make its current plan to launch Artemis I in 2021 and ultimately land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024 highly unlikely,” the update said.

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