New Delhi: On August 19, NASA temporarily stopped its lunar lander project after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against its decision to award the $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX.According to its contract with NASA on April 16, SpaceX is to design and build the Human Lander System (HLS), atop which the Orion Spacecraft will be carried to the Moon from lunar orbit. This is a part of the Artemis 3 mission, the third leg of NASA’s Artemis Project. SpaceX was awarded the contract to build a spacecraft by 2024.The Artemis project, the first human mission since 1972, aims to carry the first woman, and the first person of colour to the Moon, by 2024. The first spaceflight that landed humans on the lunar surface was Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, and the last one was Apollo 17 on December 11, 1972.Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon in Greek Mythology after whom this project has been named, was the twin sister of Apollo. The objective behind the Artemis Mission is that it will enable NASA to demonstrate new technologies on the Moon, which will pave the way for future exploration of Mars, the space agency has said. The mission has three stages, Artemis I, II and III. NASA’s contract with SpaceX is for Artemis III.
The Artemis Mission And Its StagesNASA’s massive Space Launch System Rocket and Orion Space Capsule will carry astronauts into lunar orbit. From there, SpaceX’s Human Lander System (HLS) will ferry the astronauts to the Moon’s icy south pole, the space agency said on its website.Artemis I will be an uncrewed test flight. Orion will be carried atop the super-heavy lift rocket, Space Launch System (SLS), without any human in the capsule. If Artemis I is successful, it will be certified that the SLS and Orion can be used for the other two Artemis missions, which will be crewed flights.Artemis II, the first crewed flight of this programme, will send four astronauts for a lunar flyby test in the Orion capsule, for a maximum of 21 days, at the end of which the crew will be brought back to Earth. In Artemis III, the Orion capsule will connect to SpaceX’s HLS for the final leg to the lunar south pole, on which humans will set foot for the first time.
Will The Lawsuit Affect Artemis III?Ever since the partnership was formed, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin has been continuously objecting to it. Three private spacecraft manufacturing companies had competed for this contract: SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics. It was initially speculated that NASA would select two companies. However, according to a report in space.com, the US Congress provided fewer funds than what NASA had sought, and hence, the latter had to choose only one company and awarded the contract to SpaceX.According to a Business Insider report, Blue Origin and Dynetics had approached the Government Accountability Office (GAO), asking it to review NASA’s decision, but the office, in a statement made on July 30, rejected their protests and announced that NASA could continue with its deal with SpaceX. After this, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against NASA in the US Court of Federal Affairs on August 13.According to a Reuters report, the lawsuit describes the NASA-SpaceX contract as “an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System”. It also said NASA’s decision had “fundamental issues” and that “limited jurisdiction” was what rendered the GAO unable to address this.According to a statement made by NASA on Thursday, the works on this partnership will remain halted until November 1, and that it will be reviewing the details of the case, together with the Department of Justice. The next hearing will take place on October 14. The US space agency also stated that “NASA is committed to Artemis and to maintaining the nation’s global leadership in space exploration”.The COVID-19 pandemic had already halted its on-site work, and now, the lawsuit is proving to be another hindrance. NASA’s green run test series, through which it will test the core stage of the SLS, has been running slow. Meanwhile, NASA’s Office of Inspector General has said the spacesuits required for the Artemis Mission won’t be ready before April 2025, according to a space.com report.