Elon Musk's SpaceX emerges victorious after judge rejects Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin lawsuit

 NASA will now be able to restart working on the lunar landing module contract.
NASA will now be able to restart working on the lunar landing module contract. Photo credit: Getty Images

A federal US judge has rejected a lawsuit by Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin against the American government over NASA's decision to award a US$2.9 billion lunar lander contract to rival billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Judge Richard Hertling of the US Court of Federal Claims in Washington granted the government's motion to dismiss the suit filed on August 16.

The judge's opinion explaining his reasoning was sealed, as were many other documents in the case, pending a meeting this month on proposed redactions.

Blue Origin, created by Amazon founder Bezos, expressed disappointment.

"Not the decision we wanted, but we respect the court’s judgment, and wish full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract," Bezos wrote on Twitter.

NASA said on Thursday "it will resume work with SpaceX" on the lunar lander contract "as soon as possible".

The space agency added it "continues working with multiple American companies to bolster competition and commercial readiness for crewed transportation to the lunar surface".

NASA halted work on the lunar lander contract until November 1 as part of an agreement among the parties to expedite the litigation schedule which culminated in the ruling.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) in July sided with NASA over its decision to pick a single lunar lander provider, rejecting Blue Origin's protest.

NASA had sought proposals for a spacecraft that would carry astronauts to the lunar surface under its Artemis program to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972.

SpaceX, headed by Tesla chief executive Musk, joined the proceedings as an intervener shortly after the lawsuit was filed.

The lawsuit came after Bezos had offered NASA a US$2 billion discount to give the contract to Blue Origin instead, saying the initial decision to award the sole contract to SpaceX was "fundamentally unfair".

"We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the moon for America," Blue Origin said at the time.

The lawsuit drew the ire of Musk, who told journalist Kara Swischer when asked about the deal "You cannot sue your way to the moon, okay? No matter how good your lawyers are."

Swisher also asked if he'd spoken directly with Bezos about the lawsuit, to which he replied: "Not verbally, just subtweets."

That was a reference to tweets saying "turns out Besos [sic] retired in order to pursue a full-time job filing lawsuits against SpaceX".

In August the Office of Inspector General (OIG) said hopes NASA had of a lunar landing by its original deadline of 2024 were all but impossible.

The delays in the lunar landing module due to the appeals and lawsuit was one of the reasons specified, but the development of new spacesuits was the major factor.

With more delays anticipated due to the pandemic and technical issues, "a lunar landing in late 2024 is not feasible", the report concluded.

NASA said "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, including a call in 2022 to US industry for recurring crewed lunar landing services".

SpaceX did not immediately comment.

Reuters / Newshub