SpaceX has filed an official protest with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) after NASA awarded competitor United Launch Alliance a launch contract for Lucy, an interplanetary probe meant to explore a belt of unique asteroids clustered around Jupiter’s orbital swath.
Announced on January 31st, SpaceX believes that NASA made a decision counter to the best interests of the agency and US taxpayers by rewarding ULA the Lucy launch contract at a cost of $148M, a price that the company deemed “vastly more [expensive]” than the bid it submitted for the competition.
Lucy has a fairly narrow launch window. NASA felt that ULA offered a better chance of being able to launch within this window than SpaceX.
A key factor in the decision to award the contract to ULA was schedule certainty. Lucy has a complex mission profile with a series of flybys in order to visit several asteroid either leading or following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. That results in a launch window that is open for only about 20 days in October 2021.
If Lucy misses this launch window, the full mission cannot be accomplished for decades.
According to Tony Bruno, CEO of ULA:
Those who follow more closely will be familiar with the launch date promised at the time the launch vehicle is selected, which is typically 2 years out, vs when the payload is actually taken to space.
The industry average is a 3 month miss. Some provider’s average miss is measured in years. ULA’s is less than 2 weeks.
In this list of SpaceX launch attempts, 21 of the 24 Falcon 9 launches listed had delays.
Rule 5 NASA rewarding ULA Lucy launch contract is a method governance use to maintain/increase the size of certain industries. This is an act for NASA to incentivise ULA in space program research. Also the price is deemed not too overpriced than what spacex asked for.
Surely NASA want more expert in space industry than less.🙂