NASA suspends SpaceX's lunar lander contract till November

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Washington, Aug 20 (IANS) A week after Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin sued NASA over awarding Moon lander contract to Elon Musk, the US space agency has put SpaceX’s $3 billion contract on hold for the second time, the media reported.

According to court filings, NASA voluntarily agreed to temporarily suspend the contract until November 1, this year, while the US Court of Federal Claims adjudicated the case, the Verge reported on Friday.

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Blue Origin had asked the court to grant a pause on SpaceX’s contract while the litigation played out, the report quoted a person familiar with the company’s sealed filings.

NASA agreed to halt SpaceX’s contract on the condition that all parties agreed to “an expedited litigation schedule that concludes on November 1,” a spokesperson for the agency was quoted as saying.

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“NASA officials are continuing to work with the Department of Justice to review the details of the case and look forward to a timely resolution of this matter,” the spokesperson added.

SpaceX had intervened in the lawsuit earlier this week to “ensure that the court has a complete and accurate picture” of the protest, the company told the judge.

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Blue Origin sued NASA last week over NASA’s April decision to pick only SpaceX’s Starship rocket system for the agency’s first human lunar landing system since 1972.

The US space agency was expected to pick two lunar lander prototypes (including one of Blue Origin’s) but funding cuts from the US Congress led the agency to select SpaceX over Blue Origin.

Blue Origin lodged a sealed complaint with the court weeks after the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), last month, squashed its challenge to NASA for picking SpaceX.

Blue Origin applied to GAO in April, and put SpaceX’s lunar lander contract on hold for 95 days. Bezos even offered NASA a discount of up to $2 billion to give his space company Blue Origin the human lunar landing system (HLS) contract.

Escalating his space war with Musk, Bezos in an open letter to the NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that his company would close the US space agency’s near-term budgetary shortfall and produce a safe and sustainable lander that will return Americans to the surface of the Moon — this time to stay.

But, despite the delays, SpaceX has made swift progress on its Starship system and has moved the programme along using mostly private funds, the report said. The first Starship prototype bound for orbit will be ready for launch “in a few weeks,” Musk tweeted last week.

The moon lander contract is part of NASA’s Artemis programme, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 as a stepping stone to the first human mission to Mars.

–IANS

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