The US Government Accountability Office is in hot soup after Blue Origin decided to file a protest against it as the company plans to select 2 new providers in the next launch service acquisitions under the National Security Space Launch program. They have challenged the Air Force for this. The rocket manufacturer and suborbital spaceflight company has filed a pre-award protest with GAO to prove that the norms of the Air Force do not let a fair and open competition take place. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has stated that the Air Force uses a faulty acquisition strategy for the National Security Space Launch program.
The Air Force plans to select 2 winners from the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement in 2020 to divide 40–60 national security missions from 2022 to 2026. There will 4 firms including Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, and Northrop Grumman competing against each other. The protest came up just days before the Air Force Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement Request for Proposal Proposals to promote completely fair competition. The request for proposal (RFP) of the Air Force is found to have its criteria incompatible with the federal procurement statutes and regulations.
The Air Force selected the providers based on the best value provided at the time of bidding. As the new companies lack backup plans, the bidders tend to discriminate. Blue Origin argues over the unfavorable practice of the Air Force. For the commercial and governments markets, the company is working on the New Glenn heavy-lift rocket. By providing the winners with a specific price and 5-year contract, the competition is found to be restricted. The company entitled for the national security space launch will make the cost of launch prices high and also hamper the industrial innovations.
Blue Origin wants the Air Force to clarify all the norms that are being practiced till date. The idea of giving two companies the whole authority to handle the missions for a 5-year period is not acceptable as the funds to the other organizations are squeezed. GAO will now look into the protest filed and come up with the best solution. The protest has been filed not to interrupt the Phase 2 competition but for Air Force to create opportunities for new entrants to compete. Similarly, Blue Origin has another opportunity wherein Telesat has decided to use New Glenn rocket to launch Telesat’s innovative LEO satellite constellation into space. The new partnership can help launch a satellite for a reasonable price.