The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has asked Elon Musk’s SpaceX to suspend the lunar lander contract. The US space agency has asked SpaceX to put on hold the contract to develop a lunar aircraft after two rivals who were in the fray for the contract protested against the decision. The contract will be on hold till the time the Government Accountability Office (GAO) resolves the matter. This means that SpaceX won’t be able to receive the first chunk of the USD 2.9 billion contracts. SpaceX has not commented on the development but the development means that the company will have to stop all works related to the lunar program.
The Human Landing System or HLS project was given to SpaceX on April 16th. This project aims to land humans on the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo program in 1972. Earlier, there were reports that the space agency would pick two companies for the project. This is why NASA had given 10-month contracts to three companies – SpaceX, Dynetics, and Blue Origin – to further develop the HLS concept. On April 19, NASA picked SpaceX to proceed with the contract. As a result, the other two companies that were in the race protested the decision. Blue Origin alleged that NASA changed its requirements because of funding shortfall and went straight to SpaceX – the lowest bidder. According to Blue Origin, all companies should have been given an opportunity to revisit the bid in such a scenario.
Dynetics has not made its protest publicly available. But some media reports quoted the company as saying that NASA did not follow the fundamental ground rules it had set for the program because of the funding shortfall. After the protest, NASA asked SpaceX to suspend the HLS contract till the time GAO resolves all litigations. GOA will announce its decision within 100 days. So the final decision on this is expected by August 4, 2021. Meanwhile, SpaceX is most likely to continue testing its Starship prototypes using its own funds. The company has already conducted a number of such tests.