Jeff Bezos’ space company remains on the offensive in criticizing NASA’s decision to award Elon Musk’s SpaceX with the sole contract to build a vehicle to land astronauts on the moon, despite the government last week denying Blue Origin’s protest.
In an infographic published on Blue Origin’s website and seen on Wednesday, the company called SpaceX using Starship to transport NASA astronauts to the lunar surface an “immensely complex & high risk” approach. Blue Origin is referring to a criticism that NASA officials made in evaluating Starship for the lunar lander program. Blue Origin wrote:
“There are an unprecedented number of technologies, developments, and operations that have never been done before for Starship to land on the Moon.”
Last Friday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office denied Blue Origin’s protest of NASA awarding SpaceX with a $2.9 billion contract under the Human Landing System program. In three one-page documents, Blue Origin decried NASA’s decision as “wrong for America’s leadership in space” and repeated its prior critique that the space agency “ran an inconsistent and unfair competition” — even though the congressional watchdog ruled that NASA did not. Blue Origin added:
“NASA ran a flawed acquisition and ignored the significant risks of a one provider model.”
The company wants NASA to award a second contract under the original Human Landing System acquisition structure. While NASA has said it would offer future contracts under HLS through Lunar Exploration Transportation Services awards, those contracts are expected to be $45 million or less each.
Blue Origin’s infographic focused on comparison between its crewed lunar lander concept, which looks and operates more akin to previous U.S. landers, and SpaceX’s approach to using a moon-specific version of its Starship rocket.
Beyond criticizing Starship’s complexity, Blue Origin emphasized that SpaceX’s facility in Texas has “never conducted an orbital launch.” Yet Musk’s company has launched more than 100 successful orbital launches with its Falcon 9 rockets, and Bezos’ company has yet to reach orbit at all.
SpaceX is also in the midst of final preparations for Starship’s first orbital launch attempt, having completed a high-altitude launch and landing of a Starship prototype in May.
Blue Origin made additional technical comparisons, noting that SpaceX’s plan requires more than 10 Starship launches to land once on the moon and needs to be refueled in orbit, “a process that has also never been done before.”
Lastly, Blue Origin compared the height of the astronaut exit hatches. Starship’s exit is 126 feet off the ground, and conceptually uses an elevator to bring astronauts to the surface, while the Blue Origin lander is 32 feet off the ground and requires crew drop down a long ladder.
One comparison that Blue Origin did not make was in regard to cost. NASA cited cost as a major factor in its decision to only select one winner under the Human Landing System, due to Congress granting the agency a fraction of its requested budget for the program. SpaceX bid $2.9 billion, while Blue Origin was roughly double at $5.99 billion.