WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2021, NASA completed its busiest year of development yet in low-Earth orbit, made history on Mars, continued to make progress on its Artemis plans for the Moon, tested new technologies for a supersonic aircraft, finalized launch preparations for the next-generation space telescope, and much more – all while safely operating during a pandemic and welcoming new leadership under the Biden-Harris Administration.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On December 21, 2021, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched Dragon on the 24th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-24) mission for NASA from historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing our 31st and final launch of the year. Dragon separated from Falcon 9’s second stage about twelve minutes after liftoff and will autonomously dock to the space station on Wednesday, December 22.
In an internal email to employees, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that development of the Raptor rocket engine that will power the Super Heavy/Starship launch system is in “crisis,” adding the company risks bankruptcy if the company can’t turn the situation around, according to media reports.
The problems pose a risk not only to SpaceX and its multi-billion dollar Starlink satellite broadband program, but to Musk’s plans to colonize Mars and NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon. The U.S. space agency has awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a lunar lander based on the Starship vehicle.
A new report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General says the agency’s plan to land two astronauts on the surface of the moon could be delayed by several years beyond the recently abandoned 2024 goal due to continuing problems in the Artemis program.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and top officials provided an update on the Artemis program on Tuesday, delivering the not unexpected news that the space agency will not meet its deadline of landing a man and the first woman of color at the south pole of the moon in 2024. Instead, the landing will be delayed until at least 2025.
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos tweeted yesterday that he accepted a court’s dismissal of the company’s challenge to NASA’s decision to award a single lunar lander contract SpaceX. He wished the space agency and rival company full success in landing two astronauts on the moon.
NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop the Human Landing System in April. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected protests from Blue Origin and Dynetics in July. Bezos’ company subsequently appealed in court.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA was notified Thursday that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims denied Blue Origin’s bid protest, upholding NASA’s selection of SpaceX to develop and demonstrate a modern human lunar lander. NASA will resume work with SpaceX under the Option A contract as soon as possible.
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.
Through Artemis missions, NASA will lead the world in landing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface, conduct extensive operations on and around the Moon, and get ready for human missions to Mars.
UPI reports that Federal Claims Court judge Richard Hertling has dismissed Blue Origin’s lawsuit seeking to overturn NASA’s award of a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to develop a lander to return astronauts to the lunar surface.
Hertling’s dismissal order cited a sealed opinion that he signed. The order said the court wants the parties to the lawsuit to propose redactions to the opinion by Nov. 18 so the document can be publicly released.
This dismissal was the second defeat in Blue Origin’s effort to overturn the award. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected the company’s appeal in July.
Blue Origin has argued that NASA unfairly evaluated its $5.9 billion bid. The company also claimed the space agency failed to properly evaluate the risks of SpaceX’s plan to adapt its Starship vehicle to serve as the lunar lander.
Blue Origin’s lawsuit had led to a freeze in work by SpaceX and NASA on the human lander. The space agency said the work will now resume in a statement issued on Thursday.
Blue Origin has unsuccessfully campaigned for NASA to award a second contract. Company founder Jeff Bezos said the company would be willing to reduce its cost by $2 billion to make the bid more affordable.
NASA has defended its decision by saying it did not have enough funding to award two contracts and still meet a goal to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. The space agency asked for $3.2 billion to fund the lander last year, but Congress appropriated only $850 million.
NASA has funded SpaceX through development of the lander and a demonstration flight that will land two astronauts on the surface. The space agency will open competition for future missions.
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.
NASA said on Thursday that it had again halted work with SpaceX on the human lunar lander due to a lawsuit filed in federal court by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin that alleges the single award to Elon Musk’s space company was flawed.
“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.”
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’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.
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.”
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.”