The fight over who gets to take the Artemis astronauts back to the Moon continues! It all began when NASA announced that they had awarded the contract for its Human Landing System (HLS), the reusable lunar lander that would ferry the Artemis III astronauts to the lunar surface. This decision did not sit well with the other two finalists, Blue Origin and Dynetics, who appealed the decision because NASA was showing “favoritism.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected these appeals, which has prompted Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos to bring out the big guns. In addition to filing a lawsuit in federal court and lobbying Congress, they have also waged a public relations war against SpaceX itself, calling their safety record and into question. In response, Elon Musk took to Twitter to address Blue Origin’s claims and set the record straight.

Blue Origin filed the lawsuit on August 13th in the US Court of Federal Claims, which addresses monetary claims made against the U.S. government and has jurisdiction wherever protests are made in response to GAO reviews. In a statement that accompanied the filing, a Blue Origin spokesperson repeated previous claims about NASA’s procurement process:

“Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System. We firmly believe that 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.” 

16 flights is extremely unlikely. Starship payload to orbit is ~150 tons , so max of 8 to fill 1200 ton tanks of lunar Starship.

Without flaps & heat shield, Starship is much lighter. Lunar landing legs don’t add much (1/6 gravity). May only need 1/2 full, ie 4 tanker flights.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 11, 2021

Musk weighed in on the controversy online in response to a Twitter post made by Christian Davenport, a space reporter with The Washington Post. Reporting on the ongoing controversy, Davenport posted an excerpt from Blue Origin’s legal filing. The excerpt refers to the report made by the GAO in response to protests issued by Blue Origin and Dynetics back in April (shortly after NASA announced its decision to go with a single contractor).

In addition to reiterating their previous claims that SpaceX received “preferential treatment,” the filing also drew attention to what it feels are performance and safety issues with SpaceX’s HLS concept:

“We are especially concerned with the lack of flight readiness reviews (FRR) in SpaceX’s proposal. SpaceX’s complex approach requires 16 consecutive launches with only three total flight readiness reviews instead of one for each launch which is consistent with common industry practice.

“Flight readiness reviews are fundamental to safety and are especially important with reusable vehicles and multiple launches in rapid succession. We continue to urge NASA to restore competition and immediately award a second provider. Two providers ensure greater safety and mission success, promote competition, and control costs.”

The crux of Blue Origin and Dynetic’s appeal to the GOA had to do with the acquisition strategy of the HLS program. As part of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2), NASA hoped to contract with two of the three finalists. The purpose of this was to “create the most competitive environment practicable, maximizing the likelihood of successful development that will culminate in crewed demonstration missions.’”

Infographic produced by Blue Origin criticizing the Starship likely performance. Credit: Blue Origin

However, shortly after announcing that SpaceX would receive an Option A contract for the HLS design, NASA stated in a Source Selection Statement was due to budget constraints. “While it remains the Agency’s desire to preserve a competitive environment at this stage of the HLS Program, at the initial prices and