A lawsuit from Jeff Bezos may end up scuppering NASA’s mission to return to the moon by 2024, although it isn’t the only obstacle putting that date in peril.In filing a lawsuit against the US government for awarding the $2.9bn contract to Elon Musk’s company SpaceX rather than Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos could delay the entire programme.
SpaceX has previously successfully completed numerous orbital missions, while Blue Origin has not completed one.Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, last week confirmed that the goal remained 2024, but complained that Blue Origin’s protest against the initial awarding of the contract had held up mission progress for 100 days while it was considered and ultimately thrown out.”There are a lot of blockades that have been put in front of us,” warned Mr Nelson, explaining that even if Blue Origin’s new appeal to the Federal Court of Claims was also thrown out, Bezos’ company could then escalate things to the United States Court of Appeals.
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Why are billionaires going to space?
The space agency’s Artemis programme, named after the mythological sister of Apollo, the first moon mission’s namesake, aimed to take the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface by 2024 – although that date is now in question.
Although the first appeal was thrown out, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has continued to pursue other avenues for involvement – initially offering to waive billions of dollars in payments from NASA in the case the contract to SpaceX was withdrawn and given to Blue Origin – and now in taking the space agency to court.
Waiving the costs of the mission was a calculated move, as a potential funding shortfall is already threatening to derail the Human Landing System (HLS) part of the Artemis programme.
Jeff Bezos wants to be involved in NASA’s next mission to the moon. Pic: AP
NASA’s inspector general has also warned that the agency also “faces significant challenges” in producing two flight-ready spacesuits by November 2024.The research and development for these suits, known as xEMUs (Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units), will have racked up more than a billion dollars in costs by the time NASA actually returns to the moon.”Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible. The suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest,” the inspector general warned.