SpaceX Lunar Starship Delayed by 100 Days Over Bidding Disputes

Blue Origin and Dynetics each filed protests with GAO over NASA’s selection of SpaceX for the Human Lunar Landing System. Two weeks ago, NASA chose SpaceX to proceed into development, awarding it a $2.99 billion fixed price contract. It is for the first Artemis landing and a precursor uncrewed flight test. NASA is issuing a separate solicitation for landing systems for future missions.

A now has told SpaceX to stop work until GAO determines the outcome.

NASA earlier had insisted it wanted to pick two winners to ensure redundancy. Its decision in favor of only SpaceX caught everyone by surprise.

NASA’s Source Selection Statement (SSS) explained it simply did not have enough money to proceed with two. For FY2021, Congress appropriated just 25 percent ($850 million) of the $3.4 billion NASA requested for HLS. The SSS said the agency barely had enough for SpaceX’s bid, which was the lowest, adding that it had gone back to SpaceX to ask for a best and final offer, but not the other two companies. SpaceX did not change its price, but did modify when payments are due.

Blue Origin said NASA should have given all bidders a chance to revisit their bids.

SpaceX Lunar Lander is the lowest price and largest lunar landing system. It will be able to have long duration missions without further modification.

SOURCES – NASA, GAO, pacepolicyonline
Written by Brian Wang,

28 thoughts on “SpaceX Lunar Starship Delayed by 100 Days Over Bidding Disputes”

  1. You can have a lot more panels inside that you take out and set up for the best results.
    Heck you can even hang them on the lander after you land supported by a horizontal pole. And you can rotate that around the craft as the Moon moves relative to the Sun.

  2. The rotovators and Space mass drivers will come soon. Mass driver or NEO use is the definition of O'Neill *bootstrapping* getting started, so of course first priority. After the very first Space resource dev, the choices open up. Combine the O content of rego with the LCROSS numbers and there is no reason not to just bring the stuff up in the same way the sorted pieces would be. Everything is useful, the micr0 g workshop in Space is vastly superior to lunar surface factories, much easier to tow into place after LEO construction. What exactly were they going to do on the Moon surface?

    "The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. The instruments also discovered relatively large amounts of light metals such as sodium, mercury and possibly even silver.",ammonia%2C%20hydrogen%20gas%2C%20carbon%20dioxide%20and%20carbon%20monoxide.

  3. Yes, that is the exact O'Neill plan. Even before people on the Moon. Certainly before people on the Moon continuously. The roid capture is a newer idea, they are more common than thought in O'Neill's day. They present a bigger future, and an upper limit on lunar material expense or the lunar stuff will be skipped at first. The certainty is that there is nothing useful to do on the Moon, or any planet for that matter, even Earth comparatively, other than science/prospecting and actual extraction and shipping to orbit of material. Is the surface of a planet the right place?

  4. Dan, I think patience is needed. The utility you speak of using the void of space will happen. It's just a question of which is easier to succeed with at first.

    Lassoing an asteroid is trickier. A moon based mass driver seems to be the most straight forward step to your ultimate goal.

  5. If the Lunar Lander is at the poles wouldn't the 360 degrees of solar panels be useful as the moon orbits (even if not optimal)? The height would put it above surrounding crater rims? I have no idea about the heat resistance.

  6. Surely we've seen enough examples of Government agencies being totally humiliated by reality… and they just don't care.

    Especially if they convince their friends/lovers/clients in big Media/Social Media to gloss over the story, not to mention actually ban discussion, of said embarrassment.

  7. As others have noted, I doubt if this will slow SpaceX down by much, if any since they will have to do virtually all of it anyway.

    A problem for both of the other two is that the SpaceX bid offers something the other two can't match. If NASA can't fund the Lunar Gateway in time, the SpaceX proposal is the only one that can do the mission from Earth orbit with no extra hardware. Don't get me wrong, I still want to see the Lunar Gateway in orbit. But having options is nice.

  8. As I understand it, they're only currently contracted for the two landings, one unmanned, one manned, but the ship IS supposed to remain at NASA's disposal, as further landings are planned as the budget permits. The two are just what they had money in the budget for right now.

  9. If you're at the lunar poles, you can have 24/7 sunlight, and the material is right at hand, doesn't need to be launched. And rocketry is wasteful.

    Best bet IMO is to concentrate on the lunar surface until a mass driver can be constructed, so that you don't have to waste mass. Once you've built a mass driver, the calculations change more in favor of orbit.

    I once calculated that you could actually use lunar mining as a power source, not sink, assuming mass drivers were reasonably efficient: You need an orbital ring or rotovator to decelerate incoming mass, but a rock on the Moon has enormous potential energy compared to LEO, and even a lot relative to GEO, which converts to kinetic energy on the way there; Launch most of the mass to arrive prograde, and a bit retrograde for momentum balancing, and you make a decent energy profit shipping rocks to Earth orbit for use in manufacturing there.

  10. Doesn't make much sense to put solar panels on the rocket. They can't take the heat, and only a few will be pointed to the sun. If you are going to do some solar, then do it with a space walk after launch. And/Or wait until landing and set them up on the Moon surface.

  11. Totally agree. The O was enuf for O'Neill, no dreams of any volatiles at the time, it should be enuf to get started with the other riches involved. And, why do I not see it as a propellant either for ion Hall etc or heat driven as water is? Why not use what is there?

    The logic of your 1st para is pristine. Use another one for gateway. How much more to Lunar Halo Orbit than to lunar surface can that SS deliver? Now we can do some stuff. Micr0 g and close by lunar resources, free sunlight, anyone?

    "The more equipment you can land on the Moon, sooner, the sooner you can start using Lunar materials." Indeed! The question of *sooner* has always been clear, for all such things, big cheap rockets would sure help. Is the surface of a planet, such as the Moon for this example, the right place for "lunar ISRU ASAP"? A lunar base in Space? Does the question make sense to anyone out there? Bring a SS full o' rego to the ISS and we'll see sooner. The lunar surface stuff, mostly science, either comes last or is strictly to gather resources. Factories?

  12. Even the mods SpaceX needs to make are going to be useful options for Mars and other missions. Being able to land on unprepared ground is essential to exploration use on moon or Mars. The elevator system, permanent Solar panels, and better landing legs are needed anyway.

    If this contract is like Commercial Crew, SpaceX will own Two Artemis passenger Starships to use as it pleases once the NASA crew departs on Orion after landing. They’ll also at that time presumably own the Dear Moon Passenger Starship that could transport people to the Artemis ships in lunar orbit and Cargo/Tanker Starships to have a complete Lunar transportation system with the Artemis ships big enough to act as bases or Lunar “Gateway” spaceStation if useful too.

    Given this situation after the contract is completed, there won’t be any question about who will get future NASA contracts for the moon. Nobody else will be in a position to compete. This contract is game over. If it stands and it probably will, SLS/Orion will complete the single Artemis contract and be terminated. “The National Team” and Dynetics will be done in the Lunar Ship biz. NASA and associated teams will be free to start designing what would have seemed like ridiculously ambitious but frugal missions and projects that take Starship as a platform seriously.

  13. I'd say it's quite feasible to avoid using lunar fuel if your aim is to build lunar and Mars bases; The Starship, fueled in Earth orbit, is capable of landing a truly impressive amount of material on the Moon in one go, if you use it as an expendable. And the Starship itself is useful in setting up a base, as the fuel tanks represent considerable gas tight volume, and the SS would be valuable for building other things.

    So, if your goal is lunar ISRU ASAP, you skip the lunar gateway, and land huge payloads directly on the Moon. The more equipment you can land on the Moon, sooner, the sooner you can start using Lunar materials. 

    For going to Mars, lunar fuel makes a bit more sense.

    But I personally don't like the idea of using Lunar carbon or hydrogen for fuel, those are in short supply on the Moon. I think it would make more sense to just use Lunar oxygen, since that would be a byproduct of refining metals anyway, and oxygen 40-45% of regolith by weight, vs hydrogen and carbon being trace elements. (And the Starship uses 3.5T of oxygen per 1T of methane.)

    Earth launched methane and Moon sourced oxygen seems like a reasonable combination.

  14. Interesting! The overall trick seems to be to be able to go from one planet surface to another and back and forth without actually leaving behind any useful Space infrastructure. Now, maybe we can figure out a way to avoid lunar fuel and set up both lunar surface and Mars surface bases w/o the need for anything but Earth launch! Space is just a barrier to pass thru, obviously.

  15. As you have pointed out, building *the* settlement in LEO if all launched (assemble only), or LEO ISM with all launched raw materials(DARPA study) or building it ISMRU Lunar Halo Gateway (O'Neill) or even hauling lunar rego to ISS for initial experiment/set up, a good use of SS, all of these proposals can then be tugged to however far out they need to be, waaaaaay before same sized settlement on Mars is even much started, *given equal effort*, and that last bit requires knowledge of the choices! Plus, you can wean lifeboat from the vastly larger pop in cis lunar, while not really doing anything differently. Small projects like lifeboat and Mars surface are cool. We can do them easily once we start micr0 g stuff in earnest. Big demand now that ISS has started showing possibilities. Here comes Space Solar!

  16. NASA is absolutely "going to Mars", the moment SpaceX is capable of it, and looks like they're scheduling their own flight. They'll throw some money SpaceX's way, so they can claim it's them making the trip, and SpaceX is 'just' a contractor.

    They're not going to be willing to be embarrassed by private industry beating them there.

  17. Part of what he wants to do, though, is to get far enough from Earth that an event that would take down Earth would leave his colony intact. Cis-lunar space doesn't get you that.

    1) Close proximity to Earth means no natural quarantine from long trip times.
    2) Close proximity to Earth means you'd get sucked into a global war, or hit by debris from an asteroid strike.
    3) Close proximity to Earth would discourage complete self-sufficiency, since shipping things like ICs or medications would be affordable.

    If you're building a life boat, you want it far enough away to not get sucked down when the main ship sinks.

    I've already said I like asteroids better, but he who pays the piper…

  18. This may be more of an attempt to kill Gateway and keep everything on a planet surface than anything else. Otherwise, as you say, let the other plans respond and then pick Musk anyway. How many of the deciders have read O'Neill?

  19. Yes indeed! The Lunar Halo Gateway base should excel. Having nearby resources from the Moon or NEOs, and micro grav to work with, the start of ISM and Space development is upon us. Those people having to go to fix the mass drivers on the Moon will not have to stay there long.

  20. Ideally, this will give Musk the notion of using lunar resources such as the C at the poles for his Mars ideas, as he will be going to the lunar pole. He has similar plans for Mars C capture, after all. He may then discover that he can do EVERYTHING he wants without even going to Mars!

  21. Or, you could do ALL of this in lunar Halo or LEO, and get useful stuff started. Collecting material from Moon or NEOs now trivial, thanx to Musk. No need to pretend interest in Mars for funding from politicians, things are cheap.

  22. Fortunately, there is actually very little in the way of modifications to the regular Starship needed to produce the Lunar Starship. Omitting features intended for atmospheric reentry, adding canted thrusters at the top to allow low G landings without hoover-slamming or excessively disturbing the regolith, and interior mission specific fittings. Maybe improved landing legs for dealing with an unimproved surface.

    Most everything else was going to be spent on things SpaceX is going to be doing anyway, such as in orbit refueling capabilities, and actually getting the Starship working.

    So I expect that, so long as the litigation is resolved within 6 months or so, there will be very little schedule slippage.

  23. It will delay the Lunar version of it

    There is no lunar version without NASA, launch providers are interested in whatever NASA is interested in and NASA isn't going to Mars.

  24. Those graphics are Apogee's video on the HLS selection, aren't they? They have a very good video as well on the sustainability of Artemis where they point out that the Lunar Starship could be paired with Falcon 9/Crew Dragon to cut SLS off entirely from the loop and potentially put up to 500 astronauts on the Moon up to 2040… That would be a comparatively very cost-effective way to possibly even keep a Lunar base constantly manned. Exciting stuff!

  25. I doubt this will slow down Starship development even a little bit.

    It will delay the Lunar version of it, only by delaying NASA involvement on the program.

    NASA can bring its experience with deep space crewed flights, same as its requirements for such a spaceship, but the rocket launcher and the basic parts of it will continue to be developed apace.

  26. For love of protecting our individual freeom, SpaceX must be chosen to beat the evil nations who deface, repress, destroy lives who criticize their governments. Even as we speak, the evil eastern government has copies of the starship already being tested. Protest that Amazon and Dynetics not to slow down progress in their old ways of working. The free west "must" colonize the moon and mars first to protect freedom of each individuals on earth.

  27. The SpaceX moon lander is so superior to the other two alternatives it's laughable. 60 times cargo volume and floor space compared to the runner up? At a lower price to boot?

    I really, really hope that SpaceX can start working on their moon lander. Imagine going to the moon with 100 tons of payload? You could leave a small space station on the ground for coming missions, food and oxygen supplies a.s.o.

    Not to mention that you could repeat the process for, say, 100-500 [1] million USD per trip once the lander is build. Which is an absolute bargain.

    (1) You require 6 launches to low earth orbit to re-fuel the moon lander. The target price for SpaceX is 10 million per launch, but even at 80 million per launch it would not cost more than 500 million.

  28. Pity that NASA made the formal, or tactical, mistake of not letting the other two bidders make a second bid. Now, the other two teams can delay the start of the moon lander by 100 days.


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