Feds dismantle Blue Origin and Dynetics protests of NASA’s SpaceX lunar lander award – TechCrunch


Blue Origin and Dynetics are nonetheless steaming over NASA’s determination to award just one contract — to SpaceX — to construct a Human Touchdown System for the Artemis program. Their protest of the choice was lately rejected, and now the Authorities Accountability Workplace’s arguments, which Blue Origin publicly questioned, can be found for all to learn. Listed here are just a few highlights from the point-by-point takedown of the shedding firms’ complaints.

In case you possibly can’t fairly bear in mind (2020 was an extended 12 months), NASA initially chosen the three firms talked about for early funding to conceptualize and suggest a lunar touchdown system that would put boots on the moon in 2024. They recommended the subsequent step can be, if potential, to choose two proposals to maneuver ahead with. However when the time for awards rolled round, solely SpaceX walked away with a contract.

Dynetics and Blue Origin protested the choice individually, however on related grounds: First, NASA ought to have awarded two firms as promised, and never doing so is dangerous and anti-competition. Second, it ought to have adjusted the phrases of the award course of when it realized it didn’t have a lot finances to put aside for it. Third, NASA didn’t consider the proposals pretty, displaying a bias to SpaceX and towards the others in numerous methods.

The GAO places all of those issues to mattress in its report — and within the course of makes Blue Origin’s follow-up grievance, that the company’s “restricted jurisdiction” meant it couldn’t adequately deal with the protests, seem like the bitter grapes it’s.

One and completed

Picture Credit: SpaceX

As to awarding one somewhat than two firms a contract, the reply is correct there in black and white. The announcement clearly acknowledged a number of instances that the entire thing was contingent on having sufficient cash within the first place. NASA might have most well-liked, hoped, even anticipated to award two contracts, nevertheless it was very clear that it might be awarding “as much as two” or “a number of” of them. In spite of everything, what if just one met the necessities and the others didn’t? Would NASA be obligated to throw cash at an unsuitable applicant? No, and that’s kind of what occurred.

From the report:

Even the place a solicitation incorporates an intention to make a number of awards, we now have acknowledged that an company isn’t required to take action if the result of proposal analysis dictates that just one contract must be awarded. For instance, no matter an company’s intention, it can not, in making contract awards, exceed the funds accessible.

The GAO explains that the decision-making course of at NASA weighted the technical method the best, then value, then administration (i.e. group, scheduling, and so on.). Every firm’s proposal was evaluated independently on every of those traits, and the ultimate outcomes have been in contrast. Right here’s a top-level abstract of the scores assigned:

Chart showing evaluations for SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics. SpaceX comes out on top and with the lowest price.

Picture Credit: GAO / NASA

And the report once more:

The technical method issue was to be extra essential than the entire evaluated value issue, which in flip was to be extra essential than the administration method issue; the non-price components, when mixed, have been considerably extra essential than value.

…Opposite to the protesters’ arguments, even assuming a comparative evaluation was required, SpaceX’s proposal seemed to be the highest-rated underneath every of the three enumerated analysis standards in addition to the bottom priced.

When the finances for NASA was finalized, it left much less for the HLS program than anticipated, and the company was pressured to make some powerful selections. Fortunately they’d a proposal that was pretty much as good or higher than the others technically (a very powerful issue), significantly higher than the others organizationally and got here in at a really affordable value. It was a transparent option to award a contract to SpaceX.

However having completed so, NASA discovered that the cabinet was naked. Even so, Blue Origin argued that it deserved to be contacted about in some way making it work. Maybe, they recommended, if NASA had come to them to barter, they might have put collectively a proposal which may have appeared even higher than SpaceX’s. (Jeff Bezos’s brazen after-the-fact $2 billion provide suggests they’d some wiggle room.)

NASA, nevertheless, had already concluded in any other case, because the GAO confirms:

…The company concluded that it was not “insurmountable” to barter with SpaceX to shift roughly $[DELETED] in FY2021 proposed milestone funds (or roughly [DELETED] % of the $2.941 billion complete proposed value) to later years to satisfy NASA’s FY2021 funding limitations. In distinction, the SSA concluded that it was implausible for Blue Origin ($5.995 billion) and Dynetics ($9.082 billion) to materially scale back their considerably larger complete proposed costs with out materials revisions to their respective technical and administration approaches…

Redactions however, it’s not troublesome to see the problem right here. Whereas it was conceivable, even affordable, for SpaceX to shift just a few hundred million or so round to make the fiscal math work, already questionable on the $3 billion mark, it was not conceivable that Blue Origin or Dynetics might shave half or extra off their prices to make those self same fiscal milestones occur.

As NASA’s choice group defined on the time:

After accounting for a contract award to SpaceX, the quantity of remaining accessible funding is so insubstantial that, for my part, NASA can not moderately ask Blue Origin to decrease its value for the scope of labor it has proposed to a determine that might doubtlessly allow NASA to afford making a contract award to Blue Origin.

Blue Origin complained that NASA ought to have warned them that the finances may result in restrictions within the choice course of, however the GAO merely notes that not solely is the federal finances hardly secret, however that the businesses waited till after the award was made to lift a difficulty. Such complaints must be well timed with a purpose to be taken severely, it wrote, and moreover there’s nothing within the complaints that means that even had NASA warned them, something would have turned out in another way.

There may be additionally the query of whether or not selecting a single supplier is “anticompetitive and unduly dangerous,” because the protests put it. Whereas the GAO admits that “these essential questions of coverage might advantage additional public debate,” the grievance is moot since NASA didn’t have the cash to do a couple of within the first place. As voters and advocates of a beneficiant finances for area exploration, we might say it’s a disgrace that NASA didn’t have $6 billion extra to play with, however that doesn’t imply the company’s determination to place the cash it needed to the most effective function potential was incorrect.

In area, nobody can hear you cry

Picture Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Photographs

Blue Origin and Dynetics alleged that the method was biased in favor of SpaceX in that the assorted firms have been unfairly evaluated for strengths and weaknesses. However the GAO sees these complaints for the fluff that they’re.

In a single case, Blue Origin complains that the announcement didn’t particularly require the autos to have the ability to land at midnight. Effectively, to start with, it does, and second of all, area is darkish. In case your design doesn’t take that under consideration, you’re gonna have a foul time on the market.

In one other occasion, the communications methods proposed by Blue Origin and SpaceX each have been flagged for not assembly sure necessities — however Blue Origin bought a “vital weak spot” listed for its system and SpaceX solely bought a “weak spot.” Proof of preferential therapy, they counsel.

Not a lot, says the GAO: “Even a cursory evaluation of the analysis report demonstrates materials variations between the proposals that help NASA’s totally different analysis findings.” On this case 4 of Blue Origin’s communications hyperlinks didn’t work as required, and a fifth was a perhaps. SpaceX solely had two not work proper. This kind of substantial distinction appeared in every of the objections cited by the complainants.

In actual fact, the report goes on to say:

We observe that Blue Origin fails to rebut any of the evaluation offered by the contracting officer with respect to Blue Origin’s or SpaceX’s proposals. In actual fact, Blue Origin initially challenged the company’s analysis of its personal proposal, however then affirmatively withdrew that protest floor after receipt of the company report.

Blue Origin groused that SpaceX bought further factors for a design that targeted on the crew’s security, well being and luxury, regardless of most of the design selections not being explicitly required. The GAO says NASA is properly inside its discretion as an professional company to contemplate these as meritorious — actually, they name it a “consultant instance of why discretion is due” in such circumstances — and actually, if you happen to’re objecting on the grounds that the competitors’s capsule was too good, it might be advisable to rethink your priorities.

Picture Credit: Blue Origin

Even had a number of of the choices been efficiently challenged, it wouldn’t have modified the result, the report explains.

SpaceX acquired the next analysis totals:

  • Technical: 3 vital strengths; 10 strengths; 6 weaknesses; and 1 vital weak spot
  • Administration: 2 vital strengths; 3 strengths; and a couple of weaknesses

Whereas Blue Origin acquired the next:

  • Technical: 13 strengths; 14 weaknesses; and a couple of vital weaknesses
  • Administration: 1 vital power; 2 strengths; and 6 weaknesses

It’s by no means a pleasing event to search out one has been totally overwhelmed on virtually each issue that counts, however that basically appears to be the issue right here. Dynetics and its grievance meet the identical destiny, by the best way, however with a bit extra tough therapy.

…Even permitting for the likelihood that the protesters might prevail on some small subset of their challenges to NASA’s analysis, the report displays that NASA’s analysis was largely affordable, and the relative aggressive standing of the offerors underneath the non-price components wouldn’t materially change…

The protests are denied.

It’s a fairly brutal documentation of the shortcomings of Blue Origin and Dynetics, and one that might not have been mandatory had the businesses taken their lumps and accepted that NASA isn’t out to get them. They misplaced honest and sq., and now they seem like whiny also-rans as a substitute of formidable could-bes.


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