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Judge tosses Blue Origin's lawsuit over SpaceX lunar contract

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Judge tosses Blue Origin's lawsuit over SpaceX lunar contract
An illustration depicts Blue Origin's human lander system upon landing on the moon. Image courtesy of Blue Origin

Nov. 4 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Thursday threw out Blue Origin's latest legal attempt to block SpaceX's $2.9 billion lunar lander contract from NASA.

"The defendant's motion to dismiss ... is granted," Federal Claims Court judge Richard Hertling wrote in an order, citing a sealed opinion that he also signed.

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Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' rocket company, had sued Elon Musk's SpaceX and the U.S. government in August, halting work on the contract and delaying the return of U.S. astronauts to the moon.

NASA still aims to land people on the moon in 2024, although the agency acknowledges that goal is largely symbolic and may not be possible due to lack of congressional funding.

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"NASA will resume work with SpaceX ... as soon as possible," NASA said in response to the judge's decision. "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."

The space agency said that many more opportunities to bid on lunar mission work will be forthcoming.

NASA intends to launch astronauts on lunar missions by using its own SLS rocket built by Boeing. The crew would fly to the moon in an Orion capsule built by Lockheed Martin, and then transfer to a SpaceX modified Starship for the landing.

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Blue Origin said it was "fully engaged with NASA to mature sustainable lander designs."

"Our lawsuit ... highlighted the important safety issues with the Human Landing System procurement process that must still be addressed," Blue Origin said. "We look forward to hearing from NASA on next steps in the HLS procurement process."

Musk posted an image on Twitter in response to news of the dismissal that said, "You have been judged."

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Bezos soon posted a more conciliatory tweet: "Not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court's judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract."

Most of the proceedings of the lawsuit were sealed, but Hertling directed the space companies and NASA to meet by Nov. 18 and agree to a redacted version of his opinion that could be released publicly.

The suit was about "NASA's improper award of the [Human Landing System] Option A contract to SpaceX," according to Blue Origin's motion to seal.

NASA had said it would like at least two finalists to build two unique landers for upcoming Artemis moon missions. But in April, the agency gave one contract to SpaceX, blaming the single award on a lack of congressional funding.

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At the time, the space agency said in a statement that it was "committed to the Artemis program and the nation's global leadership in space exploration."

The space agency requested $3.4 billion this year for the lunar Human Landing System, but Congress appropriated just $850 million.

Blue Origin since has criticized NASA's decision and SpaceX's plan for a moon landing as "immensely complex and high risk."

SpaceX would use a modified Starship rocket for the moon landing, which is being developed at that company's private spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas.

Jeff Bezos' company already lost one bid to interfere with NASA's plan when the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, denied on July 30 the company's protest of the contract award.

Blue Origin's bid was evaluated by NASA to cost $5.99 billion, about twice that of the SpaceX proposal.

But Bezos said in an open letter to NASA in July that the company would permanently waive $2 billion in payments and absorb the cost of a pathfinder mission to fly its lander in Earth orbit as a preliminary test.

The first Artemis mission, an uncrewed test flight of the SLS rocket and Orion capsule, is scheduled for launch from Florida in the next few months.

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