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Bezos’ Blue Origin loses $2.9b NASA lawsuit to SpaceX’s Musk

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk's space rivalry is hotting up. (Illustration by Axios)

The space race between the world’s two richest people is hotting up after a US court on Thursday ruled in favor of Elon Musk's SpaceX against Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin in a $2.9 billion lawsuit.

Judge Richard Hertling of the US Court of Federal Claims gave his verdict in favor of Musk, a South African-born American entrepreneur who formed the aerospace manufacturing company SpaceX.

NASA, in response to the ruling, said it would resume work with Musk’s SpaceX under their contract as soon as possible.

“There will be forthcoming opportunities for companies to partner with NASA in establishing a long-term human presence at the Moon under the agency’s Artemis program,” the agency said.

The court ruling is being seen as a major blow to Bezos, an American entrepreneur, founder and executive chairman of e-commerce company Amazon.

“Not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract,” he wrote on Twitter after the ruling came out.

His company spokesperson said there were still “important safety issues” that needed to be addressed.

“Returning astronauts safely to the Moon through NASA’s public-private partnership model requires an unprejudiced procurement process alongside sound policy that incorporates redundant systems and promotes competition,” the Blue Origin spokesperson said in a statement.

Musk, on the other hand, took to his Twitter to post a funny meme from the 1995 movie “Judge Dredd.”

Blue Origin had sued NASA in August, saying that it unfairly awarded a massive contract for the so-called ‘Human Lander System’ to SpaceX.

Blue Origin, SpaceX and Dynetics, a subsidiary of Leidos, were among the top bidders for the system, which is seen as a key part of NASA’s plan to send back American astronauts to the moon by 2024.

While the companies expected NASA to issue two separate awards for the ambitious space project, the agency in April awarded a single $2.89 billion contract to Musk’s SpaceX — assigning the company the task of building the next crewed lunar lander.

In response, Blue Origin was quick to file a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) arguing that they were not given a chance to revise their price during the competition, unlike their competitor – SpaceX.

In September, the GAO said it “denied the protest arguments that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX.”

In another attempt to claim the project, Blue Origin offered to cover billions in costs if NASA would award it a parallel contract to the one SpaceX received.

Bezos, in a letter to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, said Blue Origin would waive up to $2 billion in payments in the first couple years of the contract.

“We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and solve its budgetary constraints and put the Artemis Program back on a more competitive, credible, and sustainable path,” Bezos wrote in the letter.

Since then, Musk has incessantly mocked Bezos, telling him that “you can’t sue your way to the moon.”

Importantly, Musk's SpaceX has been leading the race since 2010 when it became the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft.

Bezos flew to space on a suborbital flight on July 20 that lasted more than 10 minutes, which became the first fully automated flight with civilian passengers.

Musk currently sits on top of Forbes' Real-Time Billionaires List with a net worth of $320.5 billion, while Bezos is ranked second with $201.8 billion.

NASA's Artemis program aims to land a first woman and first person of color on the moon, returning humans to the earth's only natural satellite after five decades.

The first mission, Artemis I, is on track for 2021 without astronauts, while Artemis II will fly with a crew in 2023. Artemis III will land astronauts on the moon's south pole in 2024, according to NASA.

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