Blue Origin has filed a “pre-award” protest with the US Government Accountability Office over what it calls is a “flawed” Air Force launch services procurement process.
The fledgling launch company, which was started by Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos has argued that the rules for the award process of National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement contracts does not allow for a fair and open competition.
The Air Force plans to select two winners for the Phase 2 contracts splitting all national security missions expected to be launched from 2022 to 2026 between them with a 60/40 split. A total of four companies – Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman, and SpaceX have submitted proposals for the Phase 2 procurement process.
Blue Origin argues that by awarding contracts in bulk for launches occurring over five years to just two companies, the Air Force is cutting off funds to competitors that do not win a Phase 2 contract. It believes that the move would undermine the development of the company’s next-generation New Glenn vehicle and its future ability to compete.
In response, the Air Force has stood by the process. Talking to SpaceNews in June, Air Force Col. Robert Bongiovi, head of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Enterprise explained that, “We also don’t want to be in a position when we have to add a third competitor and the market doesn’t support it. If the market has kept them going and they’re available in 2025, we give them money to meet our requirements and we’re in a better position.”
The pre-award protest was filed with the GAO on August 12. The GAO now has up to 100 days to review the 369-page filing and make a decision. Once the decision has been made, there is no formal appeal of the GAO ruling however, a protester can bring the claim to the Court of Federal Claims if it is not satisfied with the decision.