Blue Origin Challenges NASA Over SpaceX Moon Lander Deal

SpaceX, in particular, has thrived in this new entrepreneurial approach to spaceflight. Its Falcon 9 rocket, used for the space station missions, is now a workhorse for launching commercial satellites. And its Crew Dragon capsule, which carried a third load of astronauts for NASA to the space station on Friday, will also be used for rides paid for by wealthy space tourists.

Blue Origin lags behind SpaceX’s accomplishments. Its small, successfully tested New Shepard spacecraft is meant only for short, suborbital jaunts. A larger New Glenn rocket currently under development will compete with SpaceX and other rocket companies for sending satellites to orbit, but it will not make its maiden flight until at least 2022, two years later than originally announced.

Blue Origin’s partners have decades of space experience, however.

NASA announced the lunar lander competition in 2018, and officials had repeatedly said they wanted to choose more than one company to ensure competition to spur innovation and redundancy. Last September, Jim Bridenstine, then the NASA administrator, testified that he would worry if NASA chose only one lander design.

“When you eliminate the competition,” he told a Senate subcommittee, “you end up with programs that inevitably get dragged out, and you end up with cost overruns and schedule delays.”

However, for the current fiscal year, Congress provided only $850 million — a quarter of what Mr. Bridenstine and NASA were requesting for the development of lunar landers.

When NASA officials announced SpaceX as the single winner, they suggested that limited budgets influenced the decision. Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said selecting one company to build the first moon lander was the “best strategy” at the current time.

In its rules for the competition, NASA did not promise it would choose two companies or even any at all. Instead, according to the document, the agency said it was planning to select up to two companies.

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