back to article More Boots on Moon delays: NASA stops work on SpaceX human landing system as Blue Origin lawsuit rolls on

NASA is calling a halt to work on its Human Landing System for more than two months while the legal shenanigans triggered by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin run their course. Blue Origin filed its latest lawsuit last week over a multibillion-dollar contract awarded to SpaceX for the development of the next lunar lander. The suit had …

  1. John Robson Silver badge

    At least it isn't going to slow stuff down

    SpaceX are developing anyway.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: At least it isn't going to slow stuff down

      we really don't need predatory and/or burdensome and/or malicious (or even VEXATIOUS) lawsuits getting in the way.

      Bezos, exactly HOW many successful spacecraft has your company designed and flown in ACTUAL missions, other than that sub-orbital publicity stunt you did a month ago?

      *cricket* *cricket* *cricket* *cricket* *cricket* *cricket*

      Ya think maybe SpaceX might have a good track record of price and performance? And contracts should NEVER be based on ANYTHING ELSE.

      (stupid predatory, burdensome, malicious, and vexatious lawsuits)

      Bezos: GET A TRACK RECORD. COMPETE. Your "Legal Tricks" are for CHILDREN!

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: At least it isn't going to slow stuff down

        "Bezos, exactly HOW many successful spacecraft has your company designed and flown in ACTUAL missions, other than that sub-orbital publicity stunt you did a month ago?"

        17, I'm pretty sure and another going up very shortly.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Citation, please ?

          1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

            LMWakipediaTFY

            Citation for 16 flights so far and the seventeenth NET 2021-08-25. Multiple sub-orbital payloads on flights 10, 11, 12 and 13. People on flight 16. I did not count a pad abort test of the crew capsule. With a bit of a stretch you could call that "flight 0" and get seventeen flights to date.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: LMWakipediaTFY

              pah !! I can beat that... ;-)

              I used my trusty elastic band to make many "sub-orbital" launches (about 15 or so), from my back-year. That was the test phase. Most of the payloads were of various different shapes and sizes so I could judge the problems of Max Q on the different fairings.

              I then used my cross-bow to launch numerous "test flights" (about 10) of rocket shaped objects and then successfully landed them all in the field next door.

              I now plan to go ahead and build a trebuchet, having dispensed with the idea of a catapult as I have got increased funding from Notional Assets Scoping Authority of £25.86 and I'm skipping a step and going full steam ahead on this bigger launch platform.

              And once I have proved my abilities to defy gravity, I might just offer Jeff Bezos a seat on my first planned "oribital" flight...and get him into orbit before any of his Blue Origins "rockets" though the first payloads will not be expected to return to Earth ;-)

              So I may have trouble verifying that they escapes Earths atmosphere...

            2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
              FAIL

              Re: LMWakipediaTFY

              You seriously think 16 flights that didn't even achieve orbit makes Bezos competative against an organization that has laumched over 800 metric tons into orbit or beyond? Falcon 9 has had well over 120 launches alone, 26 in 2020 alone.

              So what lame Bezos shill PR firm do you work for?

              1. FeepingCreature

                Re: LMWakipediaTFY

                Gives simple answer, provides detailed source. What a shill!

            3. Avatar of They
              Thumb Down

              Re: LMWakipediaTFY

              Still not really an argument though is it. Just looking at test flights.

              16 so called test flights versus how many for space X and on which platform, the ferry to the ISS or the next gen spaceX starship? Space X has 126 flights of the Falcon with 124 successful over 11 years (according to google)

              However this is about actual useful flights that NASA need. Such as ferrying cargo and crew to the ISS. Space X a clear leader. Those are the flights I would consider worthy when considering stuff for the next gen.

              Afterall if your current gen (to the ISS) is still in test phase how can you then state the next gen which is to get to the moon is anywhere near ready for a deadline of 2025.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

      Given the incredible progress of late, at Boca Chica, it's pretty clear (from this) Elon Musk will set his own deadline for the first launch of a fully stacked Spaceship 20+Booster 4, aka 'Starship' as Friday 3rd September, with the 10th September, as another possible date.

      Mainly because everyone at SpaceX can see this date will so worth the gamble (in more ways than one), if a successful launch is achieved.

      Bring it on, as they say.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

        "Given the incredible progress of late, at Boca Chica, it's pretty clear (from this) Elon Musk will set his own deadline for the first launch of a fully stacked Spaceship 20+Booster 4, aka 'Starship' as Friday 3rd September, with the 10th September, as another possible date."

        Oh yeah, progress. One test didn't end in big explosion so it's time to build something with the potential to be a 64kt equivalent bomb. People in Brownsville, Port Isabella and South Padre island may want to protect their windows and consider a nice holiday far away.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

          Can we at least be somewhat realistic in terms of the explosive equivalent when making absurd claims?

          You've just said that rocket is a 64 kiloton bomb waiting to go off. Hiroshima was a 13kt atom bomb. The Pepcon explosion was about one kiloton. So your claiming that its 64 times the size of a rocket fuel factory blowing up, and equivalent to 4.9 atom bombs as dropped on Hiroshima.

          Does that appear even remotely credible?

          1. John Jennings Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

            A Saturn V carried approximately 770,000 litres of Kerosene ( and 1.2 million liters of liquid oxygen)

            weighs approx 1 liter of kerosene weighs 0.817 kilogram

            Meaning Kero weighs 629,090 Kg

            Assuming it all went Phooft!

            1 Kilo of Kero has 43.28 Mega Joules (MJ) of energy

            Saturn V thus contained 27,227,015.2 MJ of energy (assuming nothing else is combustible)

            A tonne of TNT from Wikki claims approximately 4.184 gigajoules which is (damn those decimals!) - 4,184 MJ

            So, technically, Saturn V contained the approximately 6,507 tons of TNT of equivilent boom

            6 .5 Kilotons would be about right, I think.

            The Spaceship uses cryogenic Methane. Bit more tricky....

            The actual capacity of Starship (both halves) haven't been made public - but estimated at around 1000 tonnes of liquid methane

            Methane is approximately 55 MJ/kg

            so Starship contain approximately 55,000,000 MJ

            That would put it at about 13Kilotons of TNT.

            That is about the same size as the explosion that destroyed Beruit.- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54420033

            Of course my decimals might be right off - i might have had a glass or two.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

              That would put it at about 13Kilotons of TNT.

              That is about the same size as the explosion that destroyed Beruit.- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54420033

              And reading the first two paragraphs of the article you linked to:-

              The blast that devastated large parts of Beirut in August was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, experts say.

              The Sheffield University, UK, team says a best estimate for the yield is 500 tons of TNT equivalent, with a reasonable upper limit of 1.1 kilotons.

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

              Except it's more likely to deflagrate than detonate

              There's a huge difference

        2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

          Opinions on Musk's tenuous grasp on sanity aside, as I'm quite certain that's what is driving your thought process on this: when you're testing experimental prototypes you want them to break at some point, if for nothing else than to find out what their real-world limitations are. Destructive testing highlights failures in design that might not have seemed obvious from simulations and component testing.

          1. rg287 Silver badge

            Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

            when you're testing experimental prototypes you want them to break at some point, if for nothing else than to find out what their real-world limitations are.

            Absolutely. Interesting comment from Musk when giving a tour of Boca Chica to EveryDay Astronaut was that the root causes of all their Starship landing failures were things not on their risk list.

            Now this could be taken a couple of ways. Maybe their risk listing process isn't very good - but they're a company who launch people to the ISS. They know rockets and rocket engines. They're probably pretty good at picking apart those issues.

            More likely is that these are the sorts of edge cases and complex/cascade failures which may or may not show up during test-rig testing - depending on how well you've designed your test regime. Things like fluid mechanics are notoriously expensive to simulate, so the belly-flop maneuvre will have been very difficult to accurately simulate beforehand.

            SpaceX's test regime is to throw a prototype out and see if it behaves as expected (plus a bunch of simulation no doubt to check it's not a completely stupid idea). This is expensive unless you are happy to fab up cheap test articles that are "good enough" to hold your critical systems together (for which there is precedent - like Apollo astronauts training on the flying bedstead instead of a full-size Lunar Lander mock-up).

            Boeing's approach is to test in a computer and at a subsystem level and then do non-destructive integration testing, hoping that the finished article all works as expected. As we found with the initial StarLiner flight, Boeing's testing regime was garbage.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

              "the root causes of all their Starship landing failures were things not on their risk list."

              Or in other wwords, you don't know what you don't know - until it crops up

        3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

          Even assuming a failure scenario much like the test runs, that means a failure on/after landing. The launch phase worked absolutely fine. So ~99%[citation needed] of the fuel would already have been burned by that stage.

        4. James Hughes 1

          Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

          @Machdiamond

          Rockets like this don't explode, they deflagrate. Which is much more benign (but still impressive).

          So you cannot compare energy released, as its needs to be "amortised" over the time if takes to oxidise. Which is short in an explosion, but long in a deflagration.

        5. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

          Have you any idea what the shockwave speed is in methane compared with TNT, even with it perfectly mixed with oxygen?

          The whole lot won't detonate, it simply isn't mixed enough, and by the time it can get mixed it's a fireball, not an explosion. Much prettier to watch (hence used in Hollywood), but much less destructive (also hence used in Hollywood)

      2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

        Starship cannot launch on the 3rd. The Environmental Impact Study has not been published. After publication Blue the public has thirty days to comment then those comments must be reviewed before SpaceX can get FAA approval to launch. The other speed bump is that the big tower is not licensed for use as a launch tower. The day after I said this did not matter because it is an integration tower Musk announced that Starship will get its propellant from the tower and not from the launch stand (through the booster) as hinted in previous tweets.

        Musk has expressed his poor opinion of the regulations that he says are holding back space flight. He has thanked the FAA doing doing the best they can within the regulations and their budget. Please, please Elon - do not tweet something stupid. Some journalists are looking hard for a confrontation between Musk and the FAA because that would be far mare controversial than Musk vs regulations.

        [Bob: Bezos has sent commercial payloads to space and back with New Sheppard. He has contracts to put things in orbit with New Glenn - which is a real achievement considering New Glenn is at least a year away from its first launch. Jeff has spent a large amount of time and money making Blue into a big disappointment for space enthusiasts and thoroughly deserves sarcastic posts from us commentards but we can do that while still being accurate.]

        1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

          Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

          Claiming Bezos has send payloads to space and back with New Shepard is true only in the same up & down sense as the July manned space flight made it past the 100km mark. It's a far cry from putting anything in orbit, much less taking humans to the ISS, much less beyond Earth orbit, which SpaceX has also demonstrated.

          The bottom line is Bezos isn't competitive against SpaceX for a contract for boots on the moon. And no amount of lame excuses is going to change that.

          1. PerlyKing Silver badge

            Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

            While I agree with your sentiment, the Human Landing System contract doesn't require launching anything into Earth orbit, that's someone else's problem. In fact it is a lot closer to New Shepard than to New Glenn: it has to land propulsively on the moon and then take off again, which are much less energetic than anything to do with Earth orbit.

            Of course, most of the BO bid is vaporware and handwavium, let alone relying on SLS to launch it.... And as for the legal shenanigans following the bidding process, they're looking more and more desperate.

            As Flocke said, there's plenty to rip into Bezos about without being inaccurate.

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: The next deadline for Blue Origin is 3rd September...

              "While I agree with your sentiment, the Human Landing System contract doesn't require launching anything into Earth orbit, that's someone else's problem."

              That's rather inaccurate. Part of the HLS contract is for the winner to subcontract with their launch provider of choice to get their HLS into lunar orbit so that it can actually be used. Completion of the contract is when the astronauts board the lander in lunar orbit, not when it's put into it's shipping container on terra-firma.

  2. vichardy

    Being from Seattle, my opinion of Bezos was low anyway, but this stunt is old aerospace sour grapes. I think he's getting bad advice from his old aero managers. He should put his head down and do what Musk does; work hard, take risks and perform. it's not like he doesn'at have to money to hire good leaders.

  3. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Bezos lost

    Because SpaceX could show

    1. Proven themselves at space flight with 80+ orbital launches with everything from manned LEO missions to the ISS to Geo-stationary orbits.

    2. Have a vehicle( falcon heavy) capable of lobbing a tesla car and some other ballast to Mars orbit (and that was in a recover all 3 boosters configuration)

    3. And bid lower than Bezos.......

    When bezos can match the first 2 , then his bids maybe worth some merit

    (and I'm not including the 'starship' concept under development as that has'nt got to orbit yet)

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Bezos lost

      I'm not including the 'starship' concept under development as that has'nt got to orbit yet

      Why not? It's part of SpaceX's bid and shows they have the start of working hardware and not just pipedreams.

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Bezos lost

        Because apart from some low level flights, its at the same stage as bezos pipedream.

        Yes its bigger, and shiney, but it has'nt launched the full stack on an orbital flight.... yet

        When that changes, it could be included

        But also it could very well do this>>>>>

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Bezos lost

          You mean apart from actually having flight proven hardware it's at the same stage as a crayon sketch? (OK, I'm being a bit harsh on BO there).

          I am sure that the full stack will have at least one RUD, but that's expected in a rapid prototyping development scheme.

          The Raptor engines are having design tweaks to make manufacturing easier, and they are now producing them at quite a significant rate.

          The tank structure has been extensively tested, and we know it can't quite handle a landing at, what was it 15m/s or so.

          The booster is, as yet, untested - but it is using the same construction methods as the ship, and the same engines (no vacuum optimisations and many have the gimbal removed, but the core of the engine is the same). The challenge is controlling that many engines, and the interactions that will happen between that many engines close together.

          Oh, hang on SpaceX already have experience with 27 merlin engines in close proximity, so maybe they know a thing or two about that as well... I'm not aware of any other rocket that has flown with more engines save the N1, which didn't have a great record.

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Bezos lost

      Because SpaceX could show

      CGI, and a NASA liveried collection of stainless steel sheet..

      1. Proven themselves at space flight with 80+ orbital launches with everything from manned LEO missions to the ISS to Geo-stationary orbits.

      Yep. And Bezos has stated repeatedly that he's not in that market, leaving it to ULA and other rocket builders to compete in that err.. space. Given there's a finite market, especially for the heaviest launches, it's arguably already a tad crowded.

      2. Have a vehicle( falcon heavy) capable of lobbing a tesla car and some other ballast to Mars orbit (and that was in a recover all 3 boosters configuration)

      Woo and yey. So that test launch had a payload of <10% of Falcon Heavy's claimed 27t. Give or take how much of a Roadster was actually launched, ie were batteries included? Motors? It did however included a rather jaunty angle because otherwise a small sports car wouldn't fit inside the payload fairing. And of course to be truly impressive, it should have launched a bus..

      But some other Muskisms. SpaceX was in the process of going Ch.9 before NASA bailed it out with some very generous funding. It was also a typically Musk product launch. So Falcon Heavy announced in 2005. Then in 2008, 'a couple of years' after planned Falcon launch in 2009..

      <crickets>

      and then it finally got off the ground in 2018. Without the hyrdrogen engines previously promised.

      3. And bid lower than Bezos.......

      That's the easy bit. Undercut your competitors, under deliver. If Musk stays true to form, it'll be late and overbudget.

      But given all of SpaceX's experience, I'm sure it'll be fine. I mean it's just an unflown engine, first & second stage/lander that promises to revolutionise mass transit. Much as the Vegas Hypeloop has.

      Oh, and on the subject of Roadsters.. Musk unveiled a new one a few years ago, but like the Cyberturkey and Semi, even though deposits were collected, deliveries are nowhere in sight. Kinda like 'Full Self-Driving' I guess.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Bezos lost

        "Undercut your competitors, under deliver. If Musk stays true to form, it'll be late and overbudget."

        Is that why Crew Dragon was mostly on time and on budget, and flown several times, while Starliner is going back to the factory AGAIN?

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    What did anyone in NASA expect?

    Poor rich kid doesn't get his way so tosses toys across the room and calls in the lawyers.

    As a side comment, it's not like his company has any experience outside of his tourist rocket. How long would it take them to play catch up to a level of experience and knowledge that SpaceX has?

    1. Irongut Silver badge

      Re: What did anyone in NASA expect?

      An amusing addition to your side comment is the fact that BO was started before SpaceX.

      Considering Falcon 1 achieved orbit in September 2008 I'd say BO are at least 13 years behind SpaceX.

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    What a complete arse!

    A self entitled twat, he wants to hold back an ongoing project just to satisfy his own vanity.

    Even if bozos forces NASA to give him some kind of contract, he has nothing that is near ready so there will be further delays.

    Looked at from some angles he is acting against the national interest.

  6. Martin Summers Silver badge

    Bezos

    What a knob. That is all.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Bezos

      That explains why his rocket is that shape...

      1. ian 22

        Re: Bezos

        Visit Seattle and see Bezos' balls. Big!

      2. Def Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Bezos

        The name I coined a few days ago for BO's rocket was: Cocket.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Bezos

        I heard Lovehoney were looking to sponsor it....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bezos

      *nob

      Insulting short form for "nobility" - "Look out, the nobs are coming", implying the nobs are dicks.

      *knob - door handle

  7. Rich 10

    If Blue O had been on the original Apollo - the uber big Von Braun rocket - we'd still be getting to the moon sometime after 2025, it would just be for the first time.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Joke

      Wait...what? Are you implying we've already been to the Moon?

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Kubrick's on-location filming demands required the crash development of an actual space program

  8. LDS Silver badge

    Didn't NASA think about that when it opened to "commercial" companies?

    I'm sure the first private manned outpost will be a law firm subsidiary to take care of all these lawsuit.. they will be earn so much they will be able to establish their own space operations.

  9. fredblogggs

    Loser pays

    This kind of thing is why we need a loser pays regime for at least some civil lawsuits. If Mr Bezos were personally on the hook not only for all of NASA's (i.e., the TAXPAYERS') legal fees and court costs but also the cost of lost time, loss of staff who may leave when given nothing to do, cost of salaries and wages paid to retain people who have no work to do, wasted materials, etc. as well as all of SpaceX's indirect and consequential damages, he might decide to accept that he's already lost twice. The money he's spaffing on lawyers could instead be invested in better technology so that when the next RFP rolls around they'd have a better chance to win. As it is, the incentives are such that the risk of filing the lawsuit is negligible even if the likelihood of winning it is low, and Mr Bezos and company have apparently decided lawsuits are cheaper to win than contracts. Mr Bezos is a jerk but he's also a product of the system. If we don't want people acting like this, we need to make sure their actions land them in the poorhouse. Incentives really do work!

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Loser pays

      "Tort Reform" at the federal level. You're making too much sense!

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Yeah I'm sure

      The richest man in the world is going to be bothered by paying the legal costs if he loses. That's like if I bumped into your kid accidentally and made him drop his gumball, and you made me give him a nickel so he could get another one!

      Anyway, it wouldn't be him paying, it would Blue Origin. Though since I'm sure he is supporting it, that amounts to the same thing at least for now.

  10. karlkarl Silver badge

    This is what happens when you get "big tech-like" companies involved. They don't win by being great, they win by just keeping everyone else back.

    Mankind's exploration of space is over, now it will just be monkeys rolling around in the dirt chucking their own feces at one another.

  11. Jonathon Green

    I like Americans. They’re funny!

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Not all of them.

      But billionnaires ? Yeah, they're hilarious.

      From a distance.

  12. martinusher Silver badge

    Blue Origin is just a theoretical capability

    As far as I can tell Blue Origin is not a real space launch capability. It might work whenever but its well behind SpaceX in this version of the Space Race. Having all the best features is nice if your product actually exists but nothing has been delivered. If and when it does fly then companies like BO and Boeing are going to have to reckon with the cost savings from reusability and the likelyhood that countries like Russia and China have also developed similar technology to SpaceX (likely, IMHO). This puts BO not in second place but right down the field.

    So Bezos will have to content himself with Amazon, AWS and the like. Oh well.

    1. xyz123

      Re: Blue Origin is just a theoretical capability

      At this point, Boeing have to have labels saying "pointy bit towards sky" otherwise they'll invent a machine to visit the Mole People.

  13. gecho

    Good Value

    SpaceX is proving to be good value for NASA. Got their commercial crew flying before Boeing for less money. And using Falcon Heavy for Europa Clipper instead of SLS will save NASA over $1.5 billion.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Good Value

      Isn't NASA still making the SLS ?

      1. alisonken1
        Coat

        Re: Good Value

        They don't call it the "Senate Launch System" for nothing!

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Good Value

          Minor typo there, it's the "Senate Lunch System". All that lobbying is paying for their lunches.

  14. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Pirate

    NASA should countersue

    Specifically, they should countersue for all the lost time and work and recoup the taxpayer dollars from Blue Origin.

    1. Roo
      Windows

      Re: NASA should countersue

      Bezos et al will simply asset strip and wind up the company before the litigation is concluded - leaving the taxpayer with a bigger bill. Making the lawyers and board members directly fiscally responsible might help, and it would go some way towards justifying the C-suite lard arses costing the firms ~400 headcount worth of lost productivity *each*.

  15. xyz123

    Nice to know the richest man on earth (Jeff Bezos) can be so butthurt by being told "No" to something, that he's willing to drag out lawsuits not to win, JUST to prevent NASA from completing its land-on-moon 2024 goal.

    Apart from all the worker-abuse and threats, what a snivelly little pathetic man Bezos turned out to be.

    1. veti Silver badge

      NASA is not going back to the Moon this side of 2026 at the earliest, for reasons that have nothing to do with Bezos.

      2024 was only ever mooted as a way to get Trump to back the project. It's never been a serious proposition.

  16. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Changing horses in the middle of the stream

    The contracts for a lunar lander were supposed to be awarded to more than one company. Blue Origin may have submitted a different estimate if the competition was only for one contract. Jeff may have made his investment offer earlier in that case. If both Blue Origin and SpaceX were awarded contracts, BO might have been the ultimate winner given Elon's habit of overpromising and then going way past the deadlines so only worrying about making sure they were the second lowest bidder would have been fine. As it is, the "Starship", a mock up really, has NOT blown up only once out of multiple flight attempts. As a recovering rocket engineer, I can say that the previous flights were coyote ugly, to put it bluntly. Stuck open valves, random fires in the engine bay, parts and pieces seen falling off, engines gimbaling in opposite directions, etc, ad nauseum. On the other hand, the New Sheppard flights have looked rock solid. Even when they expected to crash the booster during a capsule abort test, it continued to space with nary a wobble after the capsule separated. The friends and former colleagues that I have that are still in the aerospace biz have their money on BO and many of them have worked at both companies. I don't think anybody I know stayed longer than a year at SX before running for their lives.

    SpaceX has one and a half flying rockets. The F9H has only flown 3 times after being years late. The crew capsule's first flight was mm away from disaster on the return due to heat sheild issues. NASA was very pissed when Elon started working on Starship before the crew dragon capsule was done and dusted years later than promised costly billions in having to pay the Russians for seats.

    It remains to be seen how things go for SX at Boca Chica. Elon has gotten away with blowing up rocket after rocket but the permit language only contemplated one launch a month by a Falcon 9 or F9H from that location, not a research program that is spreading bits of metal all over protected wet lands. The original environmental impact report identified a whole list of endangered species that use that area as breeding grounds and researchers are livid about all of the disruptions to those animals and habitats that they are finding. If SX gets the boot from that site or is made to abide by a more limited permit, kiss them ever getting a luner launch/lander program delivered.

    I think that NASA needs to have a backup plan and Blue Origin may be a very good option. Jeff has the money to do all of the funding himself. Not that he will, but he won't need to stop progress and beg for more funds to keep going and after stepping down at Amazon, he can dedicate more time to BO. Elon's ADD has him spread all over the place. Now he want's to make a humanoid robot and I'm sure he'll want to micromanage that project just like everything else.

    Per above comments: The roadster launched on the inagural F9H did not go into Mars orbit. They were told very pointedly not to get with long distance of Mars so there would be no "accidents". Recovering the first stage of rockets is expensive in terms of energy. It takes about 45% more capability to equip a rocket with landing legs and fuel to land again on Earth rather than drop in the ocean. Every other system has deemed it financially more appropriate to not recover the stage. From a technical standpoint, it's not be impossible since the 1960's. A company I worked for has well over 200 takeoff/land cycles with the rockets they have made. I worked on several plus engine development and qualification testing and this was before SpaceX's Grasshopper project. Getting to space is a matter of money and the size of fuel tanks. If you can fly 300m up and land again, you've done the really hard part. If you can fly several hundred meters up, turn the engine off and then restart it and land, you are playing in the big leagues. Been there, designed and built the avionics (I have a couple of shirts too).

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      FAIL

      BO's bid did not meet the basic requirements

      They demanded to be paid in a way explicitly prohibited in the documents.

      So NASA were contractually obliged to reject BO's bid anyway.

      On top of that, the only thing they've actually got is an engine. It's a good engine, well designed and manufactured, supports multiple relights, throttles well and seems pretty reliable.

      But an engine is not a rocket, as NASA well knows.

      SpaceX were the only bidders who actually met the requirements.

      Now, if Bezos was claiming the requirements were rigged, perhaps he'd have a case. But he's not.

    2. PerlyKing Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: The contracts for a lunar lander were supposed to be awarded to more than one company.

      Negative. The GAO report, page 21 "Decision to Make a Single Award" makes it quite clear that NASA was under no obligation to make any awards at all. The rest of your comment is disregarded as being from an unreliable source.

    3. James Hughes 1

      Re: Changing horses in the middle of the stream

      @machdiamond The problem you have is that you appear to be old space, a system that is no longer fit for purpose, and I suspect that the contents of your post will come back to haunt you. SpaceX are clearly ahead of BO (although not by as much as many people above seem to think). They are clearly ahead of everyone else as well. There development strategy is to test real stuff rather than paper trails. This has already proven to be a faster way of getting to the require end result. Their flight performance and history is pretty impressive, and the negatives you quote above are simply part of their testing process - they test, when something doesn't work they fix it. And much much quicker than any one else (The Boeing farce with the stuck valves comes to mind)

      Whether SS succeeds or not, and I suspect after a few launches, it will, SpaceX have certainly shown a clean pair of heel to their competitors. Reuse has been shown to work and be more cost effective than expendable, and that INCLUDES the hit you take on payload to carry the recovery gear. And that is despite people from an old space background saying it could not be done.

      As for the EIS, that is a point that needs to be sorted out, I suspect it will be sorted out, and fairly quickly.

    4. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: Changing horses in the middle of the stream

      BO might have been the ultimate winner given Elon's habit of overpromising and then going way past the deadlines so only worrying about making sure they were the second lowest bidder would have been fine.

      Given that BO were supposed to start tourist flights in New Shepherd in 2019, and given that BO still haven't delivered the much-promised BE-4 engines to Boeing (who are planning to use them on Vulcan... when they show up), I don't think that Elon Time is something BO would want to emphasise too much - those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

      Elon makes ambitious statements. He also has the world's most sophisticated rocket engine (Raptor) in serial production and has most of an orbital-capable Starship/Super-Heavy stack in place. Blue Origin have been developing paper rockets for 21 years and don't have a test article to show for it.

      If SpaceX go from drawing board to orbit in 5 years (with the major 2019 redesign when they dumped carbon fiber in favour of stainless steel) it will be a slap in the face for old-space. To be honest, everything they've achieved so far makes old-space look weak and unambitious.

  17. MacroRodent Silver badge

    Meanwhile

    At this rate, the Chinese will have a city on the moon by the time Americans get to land there.

    1. LDS Silver badge
      Joke

      Bezos will sue the Chinese too...

      ... and especially will menace them to stop selling all their tat on Amazon....

    2. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Meanwhile

      "At this rate, the Chinese will have a city on the moon by the time Americans get to land there."

      It's almost like post-1980s Reagan/Thatcher/IMF neo-liberal monetarist trickle-down bollocks is actually bollocks, isn't it? We'd have had a base on the Moon and boots on Mars already if it hadn't been, for some reason, more important to ensure the fabulously wealthy became even more fabulously wealthy.

  18. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Do something unusual

    Dear Mr Bezos

    Why not put your hand into your pocket and bankroll the whole thing yourself to get Blue Origin to the moon by itself - you can certainly afford it. Just do it for the hell of it.

  19. fishman

    BO losing top management

    Quite a few of BO's top managers are leaving - even on projects not directly related to the HLS. Losing key people has to hurt.

    And Tory Bruno is wondering "Jeff - where are my engines?"

  20. Lotaresco

    Vanity flight

    OK, it's easy to admit that every billionaire involved in space is more wrestling with their own ego than the technical challenge. But Bezos seems to be suffering some massive inferiority complex over this, which may explain his desire to get into space in person before Elon Musk. Both Bezos and Branson seem to be aiming at the same achievement level - suborbital hops - while Musk is giving the impression that his ambition is a Mars landing. The recent Blue Origin hop looked awfully like nothing more than a "Rocket for the CEO" vanity project.

    1. Kinetic

      Re: Vanity flight

      I think you underestimate the scale and purpose of Musk's ambition. He's in it to save the species. To hell with the moon or just landing on mars. The target is a self sustaining city on mars. Period. Everything else is work in progress.

      Seriously, watch the 3 part series with everyday astronaut on youtube. NASA is a convenient partner for him, but if they pick someone else, he'll just go there on his own. Nothing says pwned like NASA finally landing a BO craft on the moon.... at a spaceX landing facility :)

  21. Alan Brown Silver badge

    There's a bigger holdup in the works

    All this lawsuiting is a nice distraction from a very large elephant in the room

    Spacesuits - or lack of them

    The design and production of moon-capable EVA suits for the mission is several _years_ behind schedule. Current NASA suits are 1970s designs and the ones in use at ISS are increasingly expensive to keep operational due to their age

    Curious Droid covered this a few days ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4St7s0eD6A

    1. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: There's a bigger holdup in the works

      Don't go outside - just dispatch a Tesla robot!

      You're right of course, rockets are only one small part of going to the Moon or Mars. Life support, habitats, suits, etc, etc are all essential to staying there.

      What's interesting about Musk's portfolio is that it's basically all about living off-Earth.

      Tesla/SolarCity

      His initial interest in Tesla and SolarCity may have started as "save the planet", but a colony on Mars needs solar panels and electric vehicles. Now they've announce the Tesla Robot. The humanoid thing is a marketing gimmick but Moon/Mars colonies need robotics. So apparently Tesla are going to do that. And media are asking "Why would they build a robot?". As if Musk's businesses all sit in total isolation.

      SpaceX

      The Russians said he couldn't, so he did. Now he intends to die on Mars - hopefully (for him) not via litho-braking.

      Boring Company

      Reducing traffic? Don't make us laugh. There's a reason he's developing small-diameter TBMs powered by electricity instead of diesel - so you can launch them to Mars or the Moon to dig habitat/storage tunnels and radiation shelters. The current "Prufrock" TBM is designed to "porpoise" - digging from the surface rather than needing to be dug down into a launch-pit. Exactly what you need on Mars if you haven't got a bunch of plant machinery to construct a launch chamber. It also makes it far easier to turn around and launch again compared with most TBMs which are buried at the end of their drive. Then the brick factory on the back spits out building materials for surface structures. And the total diameter is easily accommodated by Starship.

      Neuralink & OpenAI

      What self-respecting billionaire wouldn't keep their hand in with AI. Especially once you're 8 light-minutes away and things like intelligent edge-computing become increasingly important.

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