This is an artist's concept of a Blue Moon lunar lander that Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space company intends to build for deep space missions. Image courtesy of Blue Origin
ORLANDO, Fla., April 26 (UPI) -- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin, filed a formal protest Monday over NASA's April 16 decision to award Elon Musk's SpaceX a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract.
Blue Origin lodged the protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent, non-partisan agency that works for Congress.
The protest focuses on the decision to award only one company, SpaceX, the lunar lander contract from a three-way competition. Alabama-based Dynetics also had developed a lunar lander for the contest.
Blue Origin's protest alleges that NASA made the SpaceX award after it held a meeting with Elon Musk's company late in the competition, on April 2, to allow SpaceX to alter its bid. NASA didn't make the same offer to Blue Origin, according to the company's protest.
NASA's decision was "flawed," according to a statement from Blue Origin, and "not only delays, but also endangers America's return to the moon."
A NASA spokeswoman said Monday evening the agency was working on a response to the allegations for the media. SpaceX didn't immediately respond.
SpaceX and Blue Origin, owned by two of the wealthiest people on the planet, competed for contracts to land people on the moon by 2024 -- a goal that Musk said last week could be met.
SpaceX intends to use its Starship deep-space rocket as the lunar lander. The company has completed test flights of Starship prototypes, but all such tests ended in fireballs after flight.
NASA officials had acknowledged during their public comments about the SpaceX award that weak funding from Congress impeded the award. NASA sought over $4 billion over the last two years to fund lunar landers, but received about $1.45 billion.
Kathy Leuders, associate administrator for the agency's human exploration programs, said on April 16 that NASA still wants to support other companies' pursuit of lunar lander technology.
NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo