• Have you entered ???
    LAUNCH LAB ROCKETRY GIVEAWAY

NASA suspends SpaceX’s $2.9 billion moon lander contract after rivals protest

The Rocketry Forum

Help Support The Rocketry Forum:

Sooner Boomer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 21, 2011
Messages
3,418
Reaction score
986
from: https://www.theverge.com/2021/4/30/22412771/nasa-spacex-hls-moon-lander-blue-origin-protest

"NASA has suspended work on SpaceX’s new $2.9 billion lunar lander contract while a federal watchdog agency adjudicates two protests over the award, the agency said Friday.

Putting the Human Landing System (or HLS) work on hold until the GAO makes a decision on the two protests means SpaceX won’t immediately receive its first chunk of the $2.9 billion award, nor will it commence the initial talks with NASA that would normally take place at the onset of a major contract."

I remember back when the govt. ran the space program, not capitalism. One big difference is that with the capitalists running it, there are only a few companies involved in this contract. Back when govt. pork ran the projects, there were companies all over the country making parts as subcontractors. Not meant as a comment whether this is good or bad, just an observation.
 

Nathan

TRF Supporter
Joined
Apr 20, 2012
Messages
2,143
Reaction score
461
Wouldn't it be more efficient to use a smaller lunar lander than that huge rocket? It would be like landing the Saturn S-IVB stage on the moon.
 

afadeev

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Sep 21, 2017
Messages
1,647
Reaction score
856
Wouldn't it be more efficient to use a smaller lunar lander than that huge rocket? It would be like landing the Saturn S-IVB stage on the moon.
Because they are aiming to haul a lot of $#@% to the surface of the moon for the permanent lunar base.
Thus, NASA went shopping for an 18-wheeler, and not a Porsche:

 

Funkworks

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 28, 2018
Messages
1,403
Reaction score
1,002
I remember back when the govt. ran the space program, not capitalism. One big difference is that with the capitalists running it, there are only a few companies involved in this contract. Back when govt. pork ran the projects, there were companies all over the country making parts as subcontractors.
I think the companies merged over the years and that's what caused their reduction in numbers. So it's hard to put the blame on anyone. Space X sort of broke through to become a new competitor to the big remaining ones, as did a few others.
 

JLP1

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Feb 1, 2019
Messages
150
Reaction score
147
Hmmmmm lets see protest from one company the flies little capsules with big picture windows up high so tourist can see the earth's curvature (and has not flown a single tourist yet) and another company that makes neat models and exciting videos. Oh and the second company has already spent 273 million of NASA's dollars and had their design rejected as being to small and very similar to the lunar landers of bygone days.:dontknow: I would tend to think somebody got to somebody.
 

Art Upton

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2009
Messages
1,960
Reaction score
47
Chrysler is not biding anymore, they built the "body tubes/tanks" for many of the 60s-70s rockets. Mergers like Lock-Mart and may other aerospace companies in the 80s-2000s when they were suffering leaves very little commercial firms to bid...
 

dhbarr

Amateur Professional
Joined
Jan 30, 2016
Messages
7,221
Reaction score
1,645
So now instead of not producing their own working systems, they're actively hindering the one company who routinely makes measurable forward progress.

I wonder if they even think they have a plan B? Do they believe in it? Like, if they hamstring SpaceX long enough somehow, after years of failure, their programs will suddenly start hitting successful milestones?
 

Alan15578

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2018
Messages
439
Reaction score
121
I think the companies merged over the years and that's what caused their reduction in numbers. So it's hard to put the blame on anyone. Space X sort of broke through to become a new competitor to the big remaining ones, as did a few others.
There is some truth to that, but I think you missed the point. Companies trying to win congressional funding had to spread the work and money out to every congressional district to win approval. It has been said that McDonnell Douglas had tthe best technical proposal for the Shuttle, but congress could not figure out their management plan. Translation: Rockwell did a better job of spreading the money out to all congressional districts. SpaceX produces things at seemingly low costs largley because they do almost all of the work in house. I'm surprised that they are awarded multi billion dollar government contracts.
 

rklapp

NAR# 109557
TRF Supporter
Joined
May 8, 2020
Messages
1,737
Reaction score
1,252
Location
Oahu, Hawaii
Can't have an exciting episode without crashing at least one Eagle One...


In the end, SpaceX will do it with or without the contract. My understanding is the main decision factor was that Spacex had a (somewhat) proven vehicle and the others were just mockups. OTOH...

 

cerving

Owner, Eggtimer Rocketry
TRF Sponsor
TRF Supporter
Joined
Feb 3, 2012
Messages
4,303
Reaction score
1,636
How can suspending an already awarded contract to a company that is making rapid and demonstratable progress going SPEED UP the goal of MoM by 2024? This makes no sense whatsoever... sounds some political favoritism going on behind the scenes...
 

Arpak

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
92
Reaction score
76
Location
San Antonio, TX
Hardly mentioned is the fact that Blue Origin's proposal didn't match the set out guidelines for award timings and dynetics proposal had a negative mass allocation to make it within the required weight.
 

Zbench

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Jan 30, 2018
Messages
61
Reaction score
69
Location
Broadview Heights, OH
These protests will go no where. Used to work for the G in contracting. At the end of the day, the committee that decides the criteria for successful award decides if that criteria is met. Assuming no one had any inside baseball which is grounds to change the outcome, Space X will do this work. This is all about getting your last digs in and inconveniencing the successful bidder and the government agency who sought the procurement. It’s petty and never works.
 

DeWain

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Jan 20, 2009
Messages
435
Reaction score
25
The choice of SpaceX's proposal as a single source is extremely risky for a number of reasons. For starters, picking only one bid at such an early stage of development runs the risk that development problems would add years to the schedule. A single source also removes the advantage of competitiveness.

Starship also has *huge* technology development hurdles to overcome. So far, Space X has only flown crude technology demonstrators of the upper stage to about miles-- and all of them have exploded. The obvious thing is that SpaceX needs to nail down the landing. But that is just the beginning. They still need to design, build, and test the Super Heavy booster, which has far more engines (and hence a far more complicated propulsion system) than the Starship upper stage. They have yet to test Starship with its full six engines. They have yet to develop the crew compartment. They have yet to develop and test the thermal protection system. They have yet to develop refueling in Earth orbit. And they have yet to develop the Lunar Starship varient (including developing all of its crew systems). All of these hurdles require massive engineering efforts, with no guarantee that they will be successful. A fully-resusable orbital system may be just too lofty of a goal for now.

Keep in mind that this contract is just for the *initial* landings. While a lunar base is a longer-range goal, there is no funded lunar base project. So it doesn't matter if Starship could land large payloads on the Moon, because the initial missions won't have large payloads. Using Starship for these initial missions is like using a tractor trailer truck to commute to work. It may not make sense to combine payload delivery and crew delivery in the same vehicle-- that was a strategic mistake with the Space Shuttle, and we should learn from our mistakes rather than repeating them.

There are also some problems with the basic architecture of Starship. Most critically, there is no way to pull the crew away from the rocket in the event of an emergency. The crew has no way to escape if anything goes wrong with the propulsion system. Starship is also a very awkward way to bring astronauts to the lunar surface-- astronauts would need to take an *elevator* from the ridiculously crew compartment to the surface.

Let's stick with more mature technology and a properly-sized lander for the initial missions. If SpaceX can properly develop Starship to the point where it can reliably deliver large payloads to the moon, then great, we can use that for future missions that require large payloads.
 

Reinhard

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Jan 18, 2009
Messages
1,146
Reaction score
355
Location
Austria
These protests will go no where. Used to work for the G in contracting. At the end of the day, the committee that decides the criteria for successful award decides if that criteria is met. Assuming no one had any inside baseball which is grounds to change the outcome, Space X will do this work. This is all about getting your last digs in and inconveniencing the successful bidder and the government agency who sought the procurement. It’s petty and never works.
It worked for Boeing on the KC-X program. With a couple billions on the table, it might be worth a shot, even if success is unlikely.

The choice of SpaceX's proposal as a single source is extremely risky for a number of reasons. For starters, picking only one bid at such an early stage of development runs the risk that development problems would add years to the schedule. A single source also removes the advantage of competitiveness.

Starship also has *huge* technology development hurdles to overcome. So far, Space X has only flown crude technology demonstrators of the upper stage to about miles-- and all of them have exploded. The obvious thing is that SpaceX needs to nail down the landing. But that is just the beginning. They still need to design, build, and test the Super Heavy booster, which has far more engines (and hence a far more complicated propulsion system) than the Starship upper stage. They have yet to test Starship with its full six engines. They have yet to develop the crew compartment. They have yet to develop and test the thermal protection system. They have yet to develop refueling in Earth orbit. And they have yet to develop the Lunar Starship varient (including developing all of its crew systems). All of these hurdles require massive engineering efforts, with no guarantee that they will be successful. A fully-resusable orbital system may be just too lofty of a goal for now.

Keep in mind that this contract is just for the *initial* landings. While a lunar base is a longer-range goal, there is no funded lunar base project. So it doesn't matter if Starship could land large payloads on the Moon, because the initial missions won't have large payloads. Using Starship for these initial missions is like using a tractor trailer truck to commute to work. It may not make sense to combine payload delivery and crew delivery in the same vehicle-- that was a strategic mistake with the Space Shuttle, and we should learn from our mistakes rather than repeating them.

There are also some problems with the basic architecture of Starship. Most critically, there is no way to pull the crew away from the rocket in the event of an emergency. The crew has no way to escape if anything goes wrong with the propulsion system. Starship is also a very awkward way to bring astronauts to the lunar surface-- astronauts would need to take an *elevator* from the ridiculously crew compartment to the surface.

Let's stick with more mature technology and a properly-sized lander for the initial missions. If SpaceX can properly develop Starship to the point where it can reliably deliver large payloads to the moon, then great, we can use that for future missions that require large payloads.
I'm under the impression that somewhere between the impact COVID and the change in administration, the priorities changed from "2024 at all costs" to "We might do it, if the price is right." That's not very conducive for having redundant programs on hand, especially if it involves companies with margin expectations shaped by a tradition of cost plus programs. On the other hand, working with a company that already has some synergistic programs in the works, it might be doable for a comparable bargain, even if it means taking on increased program risks.
If I had to guess, SpaceX will be able to pull it off, like they did with Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew. But I'm not making any predictions on the time line. ;)


Reinhard
 

DeWain

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Jan 20, 2009
Messages
435
Reaction score
25
On the other hand, working with a company that already has some synergistic programs in the works, it might be doable for a comparable bargain, even if it means taking on increased program risks.
If I had to guess, SpaceX will be able to pull it off, like they did with Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew. But I'm not making any predictions on the time line. ;)

Reinhard
There is a *huge* difference between the complexity and risks associate with Lunar Starship and with Dragon. The team lead by Blue Origin includes Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman, both of whom have a huge amount of experience with well-developed technologies. Lockheed Martin has already developed Orion, which already has one flight. Gambling with an upstart company attempting to pull off a bunch of technological miracles at ones is far riskier than going with companies that know what they are doing.
 

Arpak

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
92
Reaction score
76
Location
San Antonio, TX
The choice of SpaceX's proposal as a single source is extremely risky for a number of reasons. For starters, picking only one bid at such an early stage of development runs the risk that development problems would add years to the schedule. A single source also removes the advantage of competitiveness.

Starship also has *huge* technology development hurdles to overcome. So far, Space X has only flown crude technology demonstrators of the upper stage to about miles-- and all of them have exploded. The obvious thing is that SpaceX needs to nail down the landing. But that is just the beginning. They still need to design, build, and test the Super Heavy booster, which has far more engines (and hence a far more complicated propulsion system) than the Starship upper stage. They have yet to test Starship with its full six engines. They have yet to develop the crew compartment. They have yet to develop and test the thermal protection system. They have yet to develop refueling in Earth orbit. And they have yet to develop the Lunar Starship varient (including developing all of its crew systems). All of these hurdles require massive engineering efforts, with no guarantee that they will be successful. A fully-resusable orbital system may be just too lofty of a goal for now.

Keep in mind that this contract is just for the *initial* landings. While a lunar base is a longer-range goal, there is no funded lunar base project. So it doesn't matter if Starship could land large payloads on the Moon, because the initial missions won't have large payloads. Using Starship for these initial missions is like using a tractor trailer truck to commute to work. It may not make sense to combine payload delivery and crew delivery in the same vehicle-- that was a strategic mistake with the Space Shuttle, and we should learn from our mistakes rather than repeating them.

There are also some problems with the basic architecture of Starship. Most critically, there is no way to pull the crew away from the rocket in the event of an emergency. The crew has no way to escape if anything goes wrong with the propulsion system. Starship is also a very awkward way to bring astronauts to the lunar surface-- astronauts would need to take an *elevator* from the ridiculously crew compartment to the surface.

Let's stick with more mature technology and a properly-sized lander for the initial missions. If SpaceX can properly develop Starship to the point where it can reliably deliver large payloads to the moon, then great, we can use that for future missions that require large payloads.
From my understanding NASA couldn't afford either of the other two options regardless?
 

Reinhard

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Jan 18, 2009
Messages
1,146
Reaction score
355
Location
Austria
There is a *huge* difference between the complexity and risks associate with Lunar Starship and with Dragon. The team lead by Blue Origin includes Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman, both of whom have a huge amount of experience with well-developed technologies. Lockheed Martin has already developed Orion, which already has one flight. Gambling with an upstart company attempting to pull off a bunch of technological miracles at ones is far riskier than going with companies that know what they are doing.
I have no doubt that the National Team has the expertise to put humans on the moon. I'm just wondering at which costs.
NGC is the prime contractor of the JWST. In 2003, when the contract got awarded to TRW (bought by NG), it should have cost $2.5B and launch in 2011. Now it stands at $10B and will hopefully launch later this year. Orion has been 17 years in the making and cost $21B+ (2020 dollars) so far and spent 4.5 hours in space. It will have exceeded $25B by the time astronauts travel in it for the first time in 2023.

Boeing, another company to which your quote "a huge amount of experience with well-developed technologies" could apply, fell well behind SpaceX in the Commercial Crew program while costing more.

SpaceX' Starship is certainly a bit of a risky bet. But it wouldn't be fair to compare it to programs that are most likely much more expensive and probably also slower. And there doesn't seem to be the political commitment to finance a moon landing with the established players.

Reinhard
 

boatgeek

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 27, 2014
Messages
3,363
Reaction score
1,896
"Resolving the protest before we start work will make it faster" sounds a lot like code for "these protests are pro forma and obviously ridiculous, so it won't take long for GAO to resolve them and this way we avoid a lawsuit."

Part of me wonders if the consolidation of the industries has made protests more common. With fewer companies, it's harder to "soft ban*" companies for being a pain in your ass. Also, during the Apollo program, there was so much work that if a company didn't get one NASA task, it might get another one (or a DOD job for that matter) the next month.

* "These companies have made our lives difficult, so we will rate them lower on management or other fuzzy aspects when we can justify it."
 

georgegassaway

Lifetime Supporter
TRF Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jan 18, 2009
Messages
4,779
Reaction score
691
NASA was supposed to choose TWO to go ahead with. Due to getting only about 25% of the budget they asked for the lander program, then NASA decided to only choose one, without revising any of the bidding process. THIS is the crux of what the complaint is about, and for good reason. I think NASA will either be forced to select a second company, or else have to re-bid.

Keep in mind that years ago, it was SpaceX that was filing protests when they didn't win a contract. Such as flying USAF payloads. So it's "funny" to see people attacking the other companies for protests, when SpaceX has done the same thing.
 

boatgeek

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 27, 2014
Messages
3,363
Reaction score
1,896
NASA was supposed to choose TWO to go ahead with. Due to getting only about 25% of the budget they asked for the lander program, then NASA decided to only choose one, without revising any of the bidding process. THIS is the crux of what the complaint is about, and for good reason. I think NASA will either be forced to select a second company, or else have to re-bid.

Keep in mind that years ago, it was SpaceX that was filing protests when they didn't win a contract. Such as flying USAF payloads. So it's "funny" to see people attacking the other companies for protests, when SpaceX has done the same thing.
Well then I take back most of what I said above. If the solicitation said top two and they only chose one without notice to the bidders, then NASA will lose the appeal. That’s just bad contracting procedure.

If that’s the case, I amend my translation of “resolving the protest now will make the whole process faster” to “Our contracting officer just got reamed a new one and we’re going to select a second bidder as soon as GAO finishes handing us our ass. Then we’ll downselect as soon as we possibly can to save money. We can’t have SpaceX going ahead now because that will make the not-SpaceX contractor protest the downselect process.”
 

cerving

Owner, Eggtimer Rocketry
TRF Sponsor
TRF Supporter
Joined
Feb 3, 2012
Messages
4,303
Reaction score
1,636
Honestly, possibly the fastest route in terms of development with the least risk would be to have a cargo ship soft-land on the moon, and a small manned ferry craft dropped from lunar orbit. Hmm... haven't we heard this before?
 

ThirstyBarbarian

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
8,647
Reaction score
1,273
I think SpaceX was going to go to the moon even if they didn’t get the contract. That meant they could bid lower than the other two bidders, because any contract they won would be gravy on top of a project they were already planning to do. And it also meant NASA knew if they didn’t give them the contract, then SpaceX was probably going to beat them there.

The entire Starship and Superheavy system seems like a huge if-you-build-it-they-will-come project. And it looks like maybe that gamble will pay off and the customers actually will come.
 

Arpak

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
92
Reaction score
76
Location
San Antonio, TX
I think SpaceX was going to go to the moon even if they didn’t get the contract. That meant they could bid lower than the other two bidders, because any contract they won would be gravy on top of a project they were already planning to do. And it also meant NASA knew if they didn’t give them the contract, then SpaceX was probably going to beat them there.

The entire Starship and Superheavy system seems like a huge if-you-build-it-they-will-come project. And it looks like maybe that gamble will pay off and the customers actually will come.
Starship is a prime example of why SpaceX isn't publicly traded, no way shareholders would want them to build a vehicle for a nearly non existent market. Starship's primary goal is mars, the moon and satellites are just a plus. (Although I see starship dominating the LEO market down the road).
 

Peartree

Cyborg Rocketeer
Staff member
Administrator
Global Mod
Joined
Jan 6, 2009
Messages
5,455
Reaction score
924
Location
Alliance, Ohio
The thing that stands out for me is that although they were supposed to select TWO, the budget wouldn't even cover ONE. Reports were that since SpaceX was at least close, they "shifted" money into later years to make it work but still used the ENTIRE budget. That would seem to mean that requiring two winners, without tripling the budget will result in it TWO winners, but ZERO. More likely though is that two will be selected, spread over more years, and zero (NASA) launches for five or ten years.

And leaves open the possibility that SpaceX beats everyone on their own dime.
 

ThirstyBarbarian

Well-Known Member
TRF Supporter
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
8,647
Reaction score
1,273
The Starship lander is going to be be comically out of proportion to the rest of the Artemis components and uses a completely different design philosophy. Maybe the other bidders can prevail in their lawsuit based on the argument that Starship sticks out like a sore thumb.

The SLS is going to be prohibitively expensive and mostly disposable. Orion is a small Apollo-like capsule. The Gateway seems like it’s going to be a pretty minimalist space station. And then there is going to be this HUGE science fiction-looking lander. Imagine flying out in the tiny Orion and when you get to the moon, the Starship lander completely dwarfs the Gateway it’s docked to. The other bidders should argue that the lander needs to cost many billions of dollars and be small and single-use or it’s just going to make everything else look bad.
 
Joined
Mar 14, 2021
Messages
14
Reaction score
5
The choice of SpaceX's proposal as a single source is extremely risky for a number of reasons. For starters, picking only one bid at such an early stage of development runs the risk that development problems would add years to the schedule. A single source also removes the advantage of competitiveness.

Starship also has *huge* technology development hurdles to overcome. So far, Space X has only flown crude technology demonstrators of the upper stage to about miles-- and all of them have exploded. The obvious thing is that SpaceX needs to nail down the landing. But that is just the beginning. They still need to design, build, and test the Super Heavy booster, which has far more engines (and hence a far more complicated propulsion system) than the Starship upper stage. They have yet to test Starship with its full six engines. They have yet to develop the crew compartment. They have yet to develop and test the thermal protection system. They have yet to develop refueling in Earth orbit. And they have yet to develop the Lunar Starship varient (including developing all of its crew systems). All of these hurdles require massive engineering efforts, with no guarantee that they will be successful. A fully-resusable orbital system may be just too lofty of a goal for now.

Keep in mind that this contract is just for the *initial* landings. While a lunar base is a longer-range goal, there is no funded lunar base project. So it doesn't matter if Starship could land large payloads on the Moon, because the initial missions won't have large payloads. Using Starship for these initial missions is like using a tractor trailer truck to commute to work. It may not make sense to combine payload delivery and crew delivery in the same vehicle-- that was a strategic mistake with the Space Shuttle, and we should learn from our mistakes rather than repeating them.

There are also some problems with the basic architecture of Starship. Most critically, there is no way to pull the crew away from the rocket in the event of an emergency. The crew has no way to escape if anything goes wrong with the propulsion system. Starship is also a very awkward way to bring astronauts to the lunar surface-- astronauts would need to take an *elevator* from the ridiculously crew compartment to the surface.

Let's stick with more mature technology and a properly-sized lander for the initial missions. If SpaceX can properly develop Starship to the point where it can reliably deliver large payloads to the moon, then great, we can use that for future missions that require large payloads.
Super heavy is basically a bigger version of the falcon 9. They already have the technology to land this type of booster. Starship has made significant progress and is ahead of schedule actually on its testing and proof is obvious with the cancellation of SNs 12-14. The proof of concept for starship has already been proven. And spaceX also has experience with crewed capsules. And even tho starship is massive, spaceX can put that massive ship on the moon for a fraction of the cost that other companies could put a small lander there. So not only do they put humans back on the moon but they also prove that a huge amount of cargo can be brought there for a base as well. And all of that is done for a fraction of the cost that other companies would need. SpaceX is the clear best option in every scenario here. There’s a lot of things that spaceX hasn’t done yet. But that by no means should count them out because if that was the case no new company would have a chance. Nobody had landed boosters to be reused until spaceX did it. And they did it while literally everybody said they were crazy and it couldn’t be done. Including nasa.
 

Marc_G

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 6, 2010
Messages
6,909
Reaction score
920
Location
Indianapolis Metro Area
All this talk about the bidding process and so forth is interesting, but has anyone documented a solid plan of what we will do on the moon sustainably once we get there?
 
Top