NASA's Dilemma: Put Humans On The Moon Or Feed Big Aerospace

Keith's note: Congress has consistently appropriated a small fraction of what is needed to continue with Human Lander work. The proposed FY 2022 budget from the Biden Administration still falls far short of what NASA has said that it needs to implement the Artemis program of record. NASA cannot award contracts with money it does not have - or will not get. According to the GAO, who will handle the Blue Origin and Dynetics HLS complaints, the Antideficiency Act provides a rather blunt roadblock to these protests since this law "prohibits federal agencies from obligations or expending federal funds in advance or in excess of an appropriation, and from accepting voluntary services."

Faced with a substantial shortfall in funds, NASA had to take that fact into account as it evaluated HLS proposals. Significant technical merits and issues aside, the numbers from Dynetics and Blue Origin were simply beyond the possible. SpaceX was much cheaper at $2.89 billion and an adjustment in its stated cost was possible. So, NASA went to the lowest bidder and asked if they could adjust their price. They did.

Blue Origin has stated that its bid was $5.99 billion. NASA stated that the Dynetics bid was "significantly higher" than the Blue Origin bid. It seriously stretches the imagination to think that they could match the SpaceX bid. Now they are protesting the decision.

NASA has not said whether they will pause work with SpaceX or on-going work with Blue Origin and Dynetics while GAO examines the two protests. Protests like these rarely succeed. The only real impact these protests will likely have is to delay work on meeting Artemis programmatic goals.

There are other threats too. Many in Congress would rather have NASA own the human lander outright which would cost more. Others think that the budgetary underpinnings of the Artemis program are too uncertain to make such a contract award. As such, even if GAO dismisses these two HLS contract award protests, NASA still faces a lot of resistance as it strives to put Americans back on the lunar surface.

Of course Big Aerospace could dial up their lobbying game and push Congress for billions more to build their systems. NASA Administrator-in-waiting Bill Nelson has been a big SLS fan since Day One, so you know that he'd certainly be listening to that option with some lingering interest.

The real question is where the Biden Administration decides to come down on all of this. Either they can adapt to national fiscal realities, think outside the box as they did with the SpaceX decision, and try to minimize the lingering impact of NASA's perennial delays and overruns -- or they can give in to Big Aerospace and pump more money into a clearly broken process that has yet to show a chance of ever meeting a program deadline.

- Blue Origin Formally Protests NASA HLS Contract Award, earlier post
- NASA Submits A Budget - And Adjusts Its Artemis Aspirations, earlier post
- House FY 2021 Budget Makes 2024 Moon Landing Doubtful, earlier post
- Senators Urge Biden To Fully Fund Artemis Human Landing System, earlier post
- Artemis Human Lander Contract Decision Delayed, earlier post
- NASA OIG: Planned Artemis Launch Dates Are "Highly Unlikely", earlier post
- GAO On Artemis: Behind Schedule, Over Cost, Lacking Clear Direction, earlier post
- OIG On NASA's Challenges: A Moon Landing By 2024 Is Unlikely, earlier post
- Congress Still Wants An Artemis Plan From NASA, earlier post

And so on. More here.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on April 28, 2021 11:14 AM.

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