Artemis: April 2021 Archives

NASA Suspends HLS Contract With SpaceXS, SpacePolicyOnline

"NASA has suspended its contract with SpaceX for the landing system to take astronauts down to and back from the lunar surface. Two other competitors for the contract, Blue Origin and Dynetics, have filed protests with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and NASA issued the stop work order until GAO resolves the matter. NASA awarded 10-month contracts to three companies one year ago today to further develop their concepts for Human Landing Systems (HLS) as part of the Artemis program to return astronauts to the lunar surface: SpaceX, Dynetics, and Blue Origin's "National Team" that includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper."

Keith's note: According to NASA PAO: "Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement."

- NASA's Dilemma: Put Humans On The Moon Or Feed Big Aerospace, earlier post
- Blue Origin Formally Protests NASA HLS Contract Award, earlier post
- Formal NASA Human Lander Announced, earlier post

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.

Blue Origin Filed Protest With GAO Over NASA's HLS Option A decision, Blue Origin

"Today, Blue Origin filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding NASA's HLS Option A decision. Attached is a redacted copy of the protest. Additionally, here is a statement from Blue Origin: "NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute. In NASA's own words, it has made a 'high risk' selection. Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America's return to the Moon. Because of that, we've filed a protest with the GAO."

Redacted copy of Blue Origin's formal protest, 175 pages, PDF

Keith's note: They say this, which has some inherent logic:

"NASA's selection of only a single provider based on the Source Selection Statement claim that "NASA's current fiscal year budget did not support even a single Option A award" is inconsistent with NASA's documented acquisition strategy and public statements. Additionally, with only a single HLS provider, NASA risks the Nation's return to the Moon entirely on SpaceX's ability to deliver its proposed solution - Starship and the new Super Heavy booster - despite the "immense complexity" and "high risk" NASA itself documented in the source selection rationale."

But then 2 inches away on the same page they say this - which is simply a reflection of how Big Aerospace sees the world i.e. everyone needs to piece of the pie - even if it is more expensive - and requires funds that NASA simply does not have:

"This single award endangers domestic supply chains for space and negatively impacts jobs across the country, by placing NASA space exploration in the hands of one vertically integrated enterprise that manufactures virtually all its own components and obviates a broad-based nationwide supplier network. Such supplier consolidation cuts most of the space industrial base out of NASA exploration, impacting national security, jobs, the economy, and NASA's own future options. Exacerbating this situation is the fact that SpaceX's Starship uses the Super Heavy booster. Starship is incompatible with other U.S. commercial launch vehicles, further restricting NASA's alternatives and entrenching SpaceX's monopolistic control of NASA deep space exploration."

Source Selection Statement, NASA

"My selection determination with regard to Blue Origin's proposal is based upon the results of its evaluation considered in light of the Agency's currently available and anticipated future funding for the HLS Program. Blue Origin's proposal has merit and is largely in alignment with the technical and management objectives set forth in the solicitation. Nonetheless, I am not selecting Blue Origin for an Option A contract award because I find that its proposal does not present sufficient value to the Government when analyzed pursuant to the solicitation's evaluation criteria and methodology."

Artemis Status Update: NASA OIG

"While NASA had been working for the past decade to return astronauts to the Moon, in March 2019 the White House directed the Agency to accelerate its timetable by approximately 4 years in order to land on the Moon by the end of 2024. Although the new Administration has expressed support of the Artemis program, it has not spoken in any detail about its human exploration plans or its intent to maintain the goal of a 2024 lunar landing. .... Nonetheless, the Agency faces significant challenges that we believe will make its current plan to launch Artemis I in 2021 and ultimately land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024 highly unlikely."

"... At the time of our November 2020 report, the Gateway program faced challenges related to the PPE's propulsion system development, vehicle weight, and mass levels, as well as defining requirements for the HALO component to avoid schedule delays and cost increases."

"... In January 2021, the program reported no schedule margin for a January 2024 launch with the PPE component facing the same challenges reported in November 2020. Combined with issues in HALO's thermal control systems, as of March 2021 the program faces up to 12 months of schedule risk."

"... As we reported in November 2020, the Agency suggested that an integration on the ground and a co-manifested launch of the PPE and HALO would also result in time savings. However, the requirements changes resulting from co-manifesting the PPE and HALO launches are not certain to result in the Agency's suggested savings and instead have led to schedule delays."

"... NASA's plan was to "downselect" from three contractors to one or two to begin the HLS development phase with award of a development contract in April 2021. According to NASA officials, the wide gulf in funding between what the program requested and what it received in FY 2021 jeopardized the Agency's plan to select two contractors to build the HLS. At the time, officials expressed concern that selecting a single contractor would result in a lack of redundancy and potenially higher, less sustainable future HLS costs due to a lack of competition. Nevertheless, on April 16, 2021, NASA announced award of a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX for the HLS. Despite selecting a single contractor, the reduction in funding will likely slow HLS development and extend its schedule. Given the lunar lander's central role, any development delays could jeopardize NASA's plans to land astronauts on the Moon in 2024 or the foreseeable future."

"... Although the new Administration has publicly expressed support for the Artemis missions, it has not weighed in on the Agency's current plans for a lunar landing by the end of 2024. Nonetheless, achieving any date close to this ambitious goal--and reaching Mars in the 2030s--will require strong, consistent, sustained leadership from the President, Congress, and NASA, as well as stable and timely funding."

Coalition for Deep Space Comment As NASA Continues Path to Return to Moon

"The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (Coalition) applauds NASA for awarding a Human Landing System (HLS) contract for the Artemis program. Along with the Space Launch System, the Orion spacecraft, Exploration Ground Systems, and the Gateway, the HLS is a critical component for enabling the return of astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo era."

Keith's note: If you read this Coalition for Deep Space Exploration statement carefully you will see that while they "applaud NASA" on the HLS contract thing they are so small that can't even mention or congratulate SpaceX. SpaceX is not a member of the Coalition but all of the Big Aerospace companies who lost out on this contract are members.

Chairwoman Johnson Statement on NASA's Artemis Human Landing System Award

"I am disappointed that the Acting NASA leadership decided to make such a consequential award prior to the arrival of a new permanent NASA Administrator and Deputy Administrator. The decision to make the award today also comes despite the obvious need for a re-baselining of NASA's lunar exploration program, which has no realistic chance of returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon by 2024. While work continues on the upcoming Artemis-1 mission, it will be critically important for the new NASA leadership team to carry out its own review of all elements of NASA's Moon-Mars initiative to ensure that this major national undertaking is put on a sound footing."

Keith's note: My question at the NASA press event: "Senator Nelson has been a staunch SLS supporter since day one. If NASA really used the capability of SpaceX Starship architecture to its fullest sustainable extent this could easily set forth a path to reduce the need for SLS launches. Sen. Nelson's confirmation hearing is next week. If Sen. Nelson says that this procurement decision should be revisited is NASA prepared to re-do the initial procurement to pick more than one HLS contractor? And if Congress needs to enact changes in law to accomodate a procurement change has NASA given thought as to how that would be accomplished?"

Jurczyk: "We have no plans to change our architecture for lunar landing missions. We did this procurement with a competition etc etc and made selection and we are moving forward we have no intent to revisit the selection."

NASA Picks SpaceX to Land Next Americans on Moon

"At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface. The firm-fixed price, milestone-based contract total award value is $2.89 billion."

Acting NASA Administrator Statement on Agency FY 2022 Discretionary Request

"Keeps NASA on the path to landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon under the Artemis program. This goal aligns with President Biden's commitment to pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all. With NASA's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, as well as U.S. commercial partnerships with the human landing system and Gateway lunar outpost, we will send astronauts to the Moon and provide learning opportunities for future missions."

NASA's Fiscal Year 2022 Discretionary Request

"The President's 2022 discretionary request includes $24.7 billion for NASA, a $1.5 billion or 6.3-percent increase from the 2021 enacted level."

Keith's note: Note that the Trump era stock phrase "first woman and the next man" has been replaced with "first woman and the first person of color".

Keith's update: I just got this statement from former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine:

"I am extremely pleased to see that the Biden administration has increased funding for NASA in the FY2022 budget request. This budget continues the bipartisan Moon to Mars effort under the Artemis program. I urge the Senate to quickly confirm Senator Nelson so that he can assess and advocate for NASA requirements."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Artemis category from April 2021.

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