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NASA rates Blue Origin higher than SpaceX for Artemis Moon landings

Published May 4th, 2020 7:36PM EDT
nasa spacex
Image: John Raoux/AP/REX/Shutterstock

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  • SpaceX scores an “Acceptable” rating by NASA for Artemis mission contracts, while Blue Origin is rated “Very Good.”
  • The evaluation document reveals concerns over previous mission delays that plagued past SpaceX projects for NASA.
  • NASA selected SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics as its partners for the upcoming Artemis missions.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX may be the undisputed leader in commercial spaceflight but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the most capable when it comes to landing on the Moon, a new NASA evaluation reveals. Last week, NASA announced the trio of companies it is partnering with in order to help send astronauts to the Moon for the first time in decades. Those companies were SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics.

However, as Space News reports, NASA doesn’t see SpaceX in the same light as its two peers. SpaceX has long been a partner of NASA, but in terms of the company’s role in the upcoming Artemis moon missions, the space agency is seemingly skeptical.

As you’d expect, NASA evaluated all of its potential partners when choosing who it would dump money on for the upcoming missions to the Moon. Blue Origin received a “Very Good” mark from NASA in its managerial rating and “Acceptable” in its technical rating, indicating that the company is capable and can be relied upon to pull its weight when it comes to developing a lander capable of sending humans to the lunar surface. Dynetics received “Very Good” in both respects. SpaceX? Not so much.

NASA was only able to muster technical and managerial ratings of “Acceptable” for SpaceX, making it the weakest of the bunch. NASA’s evaluation offers detailed reasoning of why it believes SpaceX might be a risky partner for the Artemis missions, and a lot of it is linked to the many delays that the company has suffered in the past.

Notwithstanding SpaceX’s record of successful past performance and valuable relevant experience concerning the development of complex spaceflight hardware, the SEP also evaluated SpaceX’s proposal as having a significant weakness in the area of Past Performance that I find notable.

Specifically, SpaceX’s record of performance on two relevant contracts—its Commercial Crew contract for the development of its human-rated Crew Dragon vehicle and its Air Force Orbital/Sub-Orbital Program 3 (OSP-3) contract for the development of the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle—both exhibited considerable schedule delays.

The evaluation (PDF) notes that these delays “decreased [NASA’s Source Evaluation Panel’s] confidence in SpaceX’s ability to successfully execute on its proposed HLS development schedule.” The document goes on to note that these past delays may be a positive, as “lessons learned” from those projects may allow the company to successfully deliver on new promises.

All of this aside, NASA has already chosen SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics as its partners for its upcoming attempts at manned missions to the Moon.