Dynetics has filed its own protest of NASA’s award to SpaceX of a contract to build a system to land people back on the Moon. It is one of three companies that were awarded initial contracts to further design their systems last year. NASA chose SpaceX to proceed with development over Dynetics and Blue Origin, which filed its own protest yesterday.

In statement today, Dynetics provided few details of the grounds on which it is making the protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  Blue Origin provided a redacted copy of its protest to reporters yesterday when it announced the action.

Dynetics said only that it has “issues and concerns” with the acquisition process and NASA’s technical evaluation of its proposal.

Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, filed a protest with the GAO regarding the HLS Option A award on April 26th. Dynetics firmly believes our HLS design offers great potential to contribute toward NASA’s HLS program goals and we believe NASA’s initial plan for continued competition remains the best approach to ensure program success.  Dynetics has issues and concerns with several aspects of the acquisition process as well as elements of NASA’s technical evaluation and filed a protest with the GAO to address them. We respect this process and look forward a fair and informed resolution of the matter.  Dynetics will not be making any further comments regarding the protest process.

The three companies are vying for contracts to build a Human Landing System (HLS) for NASA’s Artemis program. NASA’s scenario (“architecture”) for returning astronauts to the lunar surface involves launching them from Earth in Orion spacecraft atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).  They will travel to a small space station, Gateway, in lunar orbit where they will transfer to an HLS for the trip down to the surface and back.

Unlike the “flags and footprints” Apollo missions, this time NASA wants to return to the Moon to stay with a sustainable program together with commercial and international partners to enable long-term exploration and utilization.

NASA’s contract with SpaceX is only for the first Artemis landing plus a precursor uncrewed test flight. Other companies will be able to compete for future missions in a later solicitation.

NASA is acquiring HLS through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model where both the company and the government invest in system development, but the company retains ownership. NASA purchases services from the company for its needs and the company is expected to find other customers as well to meet its business plan. NASA’s “commercial cargo” and “commercial crew” systems that service the International Space Station (ISS) were acquired through PPPs, which are fixed-price contracts.

Almost exactly a year ago, NASA picked SpaceX, Dynetics, and Blue Origin’s National Team (which includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper) for initial 10-month contracts to refine their designs with a plan to select to one or two to proceed to the next stage of development in February. The agency extended that deadline to April while it reconsidered its options after Congress appropriated only 25 percent of the money is requested for FY2021: $850 million instead of $3.4 billion for that one year.

NASA estimated last year that HLS will cost $16 billion from FY2021-2025. The Biden Administration supports Artemis and in its FY2022 budget request to Congress added $325 million above FY2021. But that still is far less than the Trump Administration projected would be needed to meet the 2024 deadline it set. What time frame the Biden Administration has in mind is not yet clear.

NASA wanted to select two HLS contractors to ensure redundancy and maintain competition, but limited funding led it to pick just SpaceX for now.

Kathy Lueders, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations and the Source Selection Authority for this contract, explained in the Source Selection Statement (SSS) why Dynetics came in last.

This leads me to the conclusion that while Dynetics’ proposal does have some meritorious technical and management attributes, it is overall of limited merit and is only somewhat in alignment with the objectives as set forth in this solicitation. Specifically, I conclude that Dynetics’ marginal technical approach, coupled with its very good management approach, does not provide sufficient value to the Government at its Total Evaluated Price and when considered in light of the Agency’s available budget.

The SSS summarized the evaluation of all three proposals in a table.

The SSS revealed only SpaceX’s winning price bid, $2.99 billion, but added Blue Origin’s was “significantly higher” than SpaceX’s, and Dynetics’ was “significantly higher” than Blue Origin’s.

Blue Origin said yesterday it bid $5.9 billion, roughly twice that of SpaceX.  Dynetics has not revealed its price.

Both protests were filed with GAO yesterday, which has 100 days to make decisions on each.

A NASA spokesperson said in a statement that the agency was notified of the protests, but cannot comment “due to pending litigation.”