WASHINGTON – Dynetics partnered with Blue Origin to protest against NASA’s selection of SpaceX for a single award for the Human Landing System. This could force the agency to stop working on the program.
In an April 27 statement, Dynetics said it had filed a protest against the HLS award with the Government Accountability Office the day before. Blue Origin, the other losing bidder in the competition, filed its own protest against the award at GAO on the same day.
“Dynetics has issues and concerns related to various aspects of the acquisition process and elements of NASA’s technical assessment and has filed a protest with GAO to resolve them,” the company said in a statement to SpaceNews. “We respect this process and are happy [to] a fair and informed resolution of the matter. “
The company failed to address the specific “issues and concerns” it had with the HLS acquisition process, but noted that “NASA’s original plan for continued competition is still the best approach to ensuring program success “. The company said it would not comment on the protest any further.
NASA selected one company, SpaceX, for “Option A” on April 16 Fund the development of a manned lunar lander and a demonstration mission, having previously indicated that a company or two would be selected. The agency said in a source selection statement that budget constraints made it impossible for the agency to pick two and had to ask SpaceX, the lowest bidder, to revise its proposed payment plan to fit its budget profile.
Of the three bidders, Dynetics was the lowest. It had a technical rating of “Marginal”, one step below the “Acceptable” rating received by Blue Origin and SpaceX. The management rating of “Very Good” was the same as Blue Origin’s, but one step below SpaceX’s “Outstanding”.
In the source selection statement, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operation, Kathy Lueders, said the Dynetics lander “suffered from a number of serious drawbacks” that increased its risk. The lander was overweight, which at this early stage of development “calls into question the feasibility of Dynetics’ mission architecture and its ability to successfully complete its mission as proposed,” she wrote. The assessment also questioned the maturity of the technology for performing the cryogenic liquid transfer in space required to refuel the lander, as planned by the company.
Lueders concluded that “while the Dynetics proposal has some meritorious technical and managerial features, it has limited overall value and is only somewhat in line with the objectives set out in this call”. The document merely stated that Dynetics’ proposal was “significantly higher” than Blue Origin’s proposal, which in turn was significantly higher than SpaceX’s bid of $ 2.89 billion. Blue Origin announced in its protest that it had bid $ 5.99 billion.
NASA awarded the HLS Prize so it could seamlessly switch from the original “Base Period” contracts, which were issued almost a year ago and may expire on April 30th, to the Option A Prize. However, acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk said it was uncertain whether the two protests would stop this work.
“We were made aware of the Blue Origin and Dynetics protests from GAO,” he said during a Space Transportation Association webinar on April 27th. “It is too early to tell if this will slow things down or if we can keep things moving. We are currently working on it. “
In September 2014, the Sierra Nevada Corporation filed a protest against NASA’s awarding of development contracts for commercial crew members to Boeing and SpaceX. NASA ordered these two companies to cease working on these contracts, but within a few weeks canceled these work interruption orders. citing the “legal authority” available to him to enable the work to continue while GAO reviewed the protest. GAO rejected the protest in January 2015.