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aerospace astronomy Blue Origin Dynetics GAO Human Landing System nasa spacex

Dynetics protests NASA HLS award

Dynetics lunar lander

WASHINGTON — Dynetics has joined Blue Origin in filing a protest of NASA’s selection of SpaceX for a single Human Landing System award, a move that could force the agency to suspend work on the program.

In a statement April 27, Dynetics said it filed a protest of the HLS award with the Government Accountability Office the previous day. Blue Origin, the other losing bidder in the competition, filed its own protest of the award with the GAO the same day.

“Dynetics has issues and concerns with several aspects of the acquisition process as well as elements of NASA’s technical evaluation and filed a protest with the GAO to address them,” the company said in a statement to SpaceNews. “We respect this process and look forward [to] a fair and informed resolution of the matter.”

The company did not elaborate on the specific “issues and concerns” it had with the HLS acquisition process, but noted it believed “NASA’s initial plan for continued competition remains the best approach to ensure program success.” The company said it would not comment further on the protest.

NASA selected one company, SpaceX, for an “Option A” award April 16 to fund development of a crewed lunar lander and a demonstration mission, after earlier indicating that it would select one or two companies. The agency said in a source selection statement that budget shortfalls made it impossible for the agency to select two, and had to ask SpaceX, the lowest bidder, to revise its proposed payment schedule to fit into its budget profile.

Of the three bidders, Dynetics was the lowest ranked. It had a technical rating of “Marginal,” one step below the “Acceptable” that Blue Origin and SpaceX received. Its Management rating of “Very Good” was the same as Blue Origin but one step below SpaceX’s “Outstanding.”

In the source selection statement, Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said the Dynetics lander “suffered from a number of serious drawbacks” that increased risk. The lander was overweight, which at this early stage of development “calls into question the feasibility of Dynetics’ mission architecture and its ability to successfully close its mission as proposed,” she wrote. The evaluation also questioned the maturity of the technology for performing in-space cryogenic fluid transfer required to refuel the lander, as the company planned.

Lueders concluded that “while Dynetics’ proposal does have some meritorious technical and management attributes, it is overall of limited merit and is only somewhat in alignment with the objectives as set forth in this solicitation.” The document only stated that Dynetics’ proposal had a price “significantly higher” than Blue Origin’s proposal, which in turn was significantly higher than SpaceX’s winning bid of $2.89 billion. Blue Origin disclosed in its protest that it bid $5.99 billion.

NASA made the HLS award so that it could seamlessly shift from the original “base period” contracts issued nearly one year ago and set to expire April 30 to the Option A award. However, NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said it’s uncertain if the two protests will suspend that work.

“We’ve been made aware of the protests by both Blue Origin and Dynetics from GAO,” he said during an April 27 webinar by the Space Transportation Association. “It’s too soon to be determined whether that’s going to delay moving forward or whether we can keep things moving forward. We’re working through that right now.”

In September 2014, Sierra Nevada Corporation filed a protest of NASA’s award of commercial crew development contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. NASA instructed those two companies to stop work on those contracts, but within a couple weeks lifted those stop-work orders, citing “statutory authority available to it” to allow work to continue while the GAO reviewed the protest. GAO dismissed the protest in January 2015.

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aerospace astronomy Blue Origin GAO Human Landing System nasa spacex

Blue Origin protests NASA Human Landing System award

Blue Origin human lunar lander

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office April 26 over NASA’s decision to select only SpaceX for its Human Landing System (HLS) program, arguing the agency “moved the goalposts” of the competition.

The company, in a lengthy filing with the GAO, claimed that in addition to not giving companies the opportunity to change their proposals to reflect the agency’s reduced budget for HLS, NASA improperly evaluated aspects of its proposal as well as the one by SpaceX, the company that won the $2.89 billion contract April 16 to develop a crewed lunar lander and perform a demonstration mission.

“NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute,” the company said in a statement provided to SpaceNews about its protest. “In NASA’s own words, it has made a ‘high risk’ selection.”

Blue Origin says in the GAO protest that its “National Team,” which included Draper, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, bid $5.99 billion for the HLS award, slightly more than double SpaceX’s bid. However, it argues that it was not given the opportunity to revise that bid when NASA concluded that the funding available would not allow it to select two bidders, as originally anticipated. NASA requested $3.3 billion for HLS in its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal but received only $850 million in an omnibus appropriations bill passed in December 2020.

“NASA’s source selection rationale improperly justifies the selection of a lone provider as a result of ‘anticipated future funding for the HLS Program,’” Blue Origin’s protest states. It notes that the combination of its bid and SpaceX’s bid, about $9 billion, is similar to what NASA spent on the commercial crew program, where NASA “made two awards with less available funding and less out-year funding certainty.”

“Blue Origin was plainly prejudiced by the Agency’s failure to communicate this change in requirements,” it states, by not giving the company an opportunity to revise its proposal. “Blue Origin could have and would have taken several actions to revise its proposed approach, reduce its price to more closely align with funding available to the Agency, and/or propose schedule alternatives” if given the opportunity by NASA.

Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of advanced development programs at Blue Origin, said in an affidavit included in the protest that the company received no feedback from the company’s proposal until NASA notified it April 16 that the agency had not selected it for an award.

“If NASA had notified Blue Origin that the Source Selection Official’s assessment of available out-year budget would preclude an award absent a repriced Blue Origin proposal, Blue Origin would have welcomed the opportunity to offer specific adjustments in a revised proposal,” he wrote, such as having the company pay a greater share of the overall development cost.

Blue Origin also criticized NASA’s assessment of Blue Origin’s proposal on several technical and managerial grounds. That includes a claim in the source selection statement that the proposal included advanced payments not allowed in the proposal and thus grounds for ruling the proposal ineligible for an award, and another that raised questions about the communications system for the lander.

The company also argued that NASA “unreasonably favored” SpaceX’s Starship lander in its evaluation. SpaceX, it argued, needs to develop a fully reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle rapidly and use “never-before-tested on-orbit refueling” to be successful. “In contrast, Blue Origin’s proposal is compatible with existing launch vehicles, utilizes only 3 launches, and employs heritage systems that have been flight tested,” it argued.

“The Agency unreasonably favored SpaceX’s evaluation by minimizing significant risks in SpaceX’s design and schedule, while maximizing the same or similar risks in Blue Origin’s proposal,” it concluded. “Such an evaluation is unreasonable and prejudiced Blue Origin.”

Blue Origin argued that, by selecting SpaceX, NASA is jeopardizing the broader commercial space industry. “This single award endangers domestic supply chains for space and negatively impacts jobs across the country, by placing NASA space exploration in the hands of one vertically integrated enterprise that manufactures virtually all its own components and obviates a broad-based nationwide supplier network,” it stated. “Starship is incompatible with other U.S. commercial launch vehicles, further restricting NASA’s alternatives and entrenching SpaceX’s monopolistic control of NASA deep space exploration.”

“Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America’s return to the moon. Because of that, we’ve filed a protest with the GAO,” Blue Origin said in its statement to SpaceNews about its decision to protest the HLS award.

Protests of major NASA contracts are not uncommon. In 2014, Sierra Nevada Corporation protested NASA’s selection of Boeing and SpaceX for commercial crew development awards. The GAO, though, rejected that protest in January 2015.

Blue Origin is no stranger to GAO protests either. It filed a “pre-award” protest of the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 procurement in 2019, arguing that the terms of request for proposals did not allow a full and open competition. The GAO sustained one aspect of that protest, regarding looking at the best value of proposals “when combined,” but rejected other aspects of it. Blue Origin ultimately did not win a launch contract, but did not file a GAO protest.

In a December 2020 report, the GAO said it sustained 15% of protests it resolved in fiscal year 2020, compared to 13% in fiscal year 2019. The main reasons for sustaining protests were unreasonable technical evaluations, flaws in the solicitation, and unreasonable evaluations of cost or past performance.

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