October 28, 2021

Blue Origin’s case against NASA SpaceX’s lunar lander award is detailed in a court filing

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Blue Origin is attempting to reverse NASA’s decision to grant SpaceX a lunar lander contract, claiming that SpaceX’s proposal was not able to meet review requirements, rendering it “unawardable.”

On September 22, the United States Court of Federal Claims issued a heavily redacted copy of Blue Origin’s lawsuit, which was filed with the court on August 13. The case is essentially an appeal of the company’s objection to SpaceX’s award of the Human Landing System (HLS), which the Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected on July 30.

Blue Origin’s main claim is that NASA disregarded a requirement that bidders conduct an FRR (flight readiness review) before launching each component of the lander systems. Blue Origin claims that before every “tanker” Starship launch, which carried propellant to fuel the lander Starship, SpaceX failed to include FRRs. NASA did require an FRR before every type of Starship launch in later discussions with SpaceX, but Blue Origin claims that this too failed to meet the solicitation’s standards.

Failure to fulfill that criterion, according to Blue Origin, should have precluded SpaceX from receiving an HLS award. “The Agency’s decision to award SpaceX’s deficient proposal an initial, conditional award was unreasonable and in direct contravention of the Solicitation’s ground rules, which state, ‘Offerors are hereby alerted that proposals assessed as possessing one or more shortcomings are unawardable,’” the complaint stated (emphasis in original.)

“We maintain our argument that NASA chose a proposal that did not meet the solicitation’s requirements. There are major safety concerns, and the waiver of material standards harmed both Blue Origin and Dynetics, according to Megan Mitchell, who serves as the vice president in charge of the government relations at Blue Origin.

The GAO concluded that NASA erred in not mandating an FRR before each deployment of a lander element in the public version of its conclusion on the Dynetics and Blue Origin bid complaints released August 10. The protests were not upheld because there was no indication that the businesses “could or would have revised their proposals to materially boost their likelihood of getting the award if they had learned about the relaxation of the FRR requirement.”

Blue Origin had a different opinion. Blue Origin might have engineered and suggested an altogether separate architecture with correlating differences in management, technical, and price ratings if it had known the Agency would relinquish the FRR specifications and other prerequisites that have a significant impact on schedule and risk, it claims. Although the text that follows in the paper is censored, it does not expound on what architecture was going to been.

NASA’s subsequent conversations with SpaceX, which included fixing the FRR issue, were also criticized in the complaint. The government referred to it as a “post-selection negotiation.” Still, Blue Origin contends that the negotiations should be classified as “discussions” under federal acquisition rules, requiring NASA to undertake equivalent discussions with other bidders, enabling them to amend their plans as well.

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