NASA freezes funding to SpaceX HLS contract after rivals protest
Even as Amazon crushed the workers' protests against inhuman working conditions, the company's CEO Jeff Bezos successfully used the same strategy to compel NASA to suspend SpaceX's funding for the lunar project. SpaceX was awarded the exclusive $2.9 billion-worth lunar lander contract, given how Bezos's space endeavor Blue Origin was yet to launch a single rocket into orbit. Bezos's protests, however, forced NASA's hand.
Blue Origin wasn't the only one upset with NASA awarding the Human Landing System (HLS) contract to SpaceX. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) supplier Dynetics also officially protested the move. Both companies were in the running for the contract and expected it to be shared between two companies. This culminated in the companies protesting to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) governing bidding disputes.
SpaceX was selected by NASA for the HLS, which is a part of former US President Donald Trump's ambitious Artemis program to send men back to the moon. The contract's losers protested NASA's decision based on the expectation that there would be two awardees sharing the contract. Interestingly, the $1.7 trillion F-35 program awarded to the sole entity Lockheed Martin faced no such protests.
One of the major reasons for NASA choosing SpaceX, besides it being the only one with proven prototypes, was the Starship rocket's massive payload capacity and the proposed $2.9 billion bid being lower than Blue Origin's and Dynetics' counterbids. However, Blue Origin alleged that NASA unfairly "moved the goalposts at the last minute" and jeopardized the 2024 delivery timeline by picking only one company.
Originally, NASA was expected to select two bidders to maintain redundancy. However, it disbursed funding solely to SpaceX's competitive bid owing to a serious funding shortfall. Congress only released $850 million of the $3.3 billion NASA had requested for the HLS project. Dynetics argues the agency should have amended the solicitation or withdrawn it altogether to start over based on the revised budget.