Blue Origin protests Air Force launch procurement process


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Blue Origin has submitted a protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) yesterday about the Air Force plan to pick two launch providers now for all its satellite launches after 2026.

According to a copy of the protest obtained by FLORIDA TODAY, the ordering period for the launches would run from 2020 to 2024 and ultimately select two contractors for flights beginning in 2026.

“The most recent market research, however, indicates the total global addressable space launch market, including NSSL launches, could support three or even four U.S. launch companies,” the protest reads. “Even the Agency’s own LSP source selection support contractor – the Aerospace Corporation – predicts that the space launch market has significant potential to suffer from a launch capacity shortfall because U.S. and foreign government launches will require most of the available launch capacity.”

I couldn’t agree with Blue Origin more. The Air Force wants to limit competition in the 2020s to only two companies, which will almost certainly be ULA and SpaceX since they are the only two presently flying, when by the 2020s there might be several more companies available providing competition that can lower the price.

There is no reason for the Air Force to make this decision now. None. When they need to order these launches in the early 2020s they should open that bidding process to all comers, and pick appropriately, then. Everything about this Pentagon plan stinks, reeking of the corruption that permeates Washington. I even wonder if some people have gotten pay-offs in connection with the decision to favor only two companies. It wouldn’t surprise me. (I myself have been offered money to let military lobbying companies ghostwrite op-eds using my name, supporting this Air Force plan, offers that I very bluntly turned down.)

Also, even if Blue Origin’s protest now fails, expect whoever doesn’t get picked by the Air Force now to file lawsuits in the 2020s when they are denied the right to bid on those future launches. And expect the Air Force to then back down, as it was forced to do when SpaceX was denied the right to bid on Air Force contracts early in this decade.

One more thought: This protest suggests Blue Origin already expects to not get picked. This expectation might also explain why Jeff Bezos decided to sell more Amazon stock last week, raising almost $3 billion in capital. He might be anticipating that Blue Origin will be cut out of those Air Force contracts, and so needs more of his own money to develop its New Glenn rocket.

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4 comments

  • kyle

    If only two providers, then the Air Force cannot choose BO and ULA since they use the same engine. There is no way ULA will not be chosen, their lobbying power is too great. Elon just has to go on twitter and complain. It would be politcal suicide for any politician to risk the wrath of twitter.

  • Jollster

    At least Elon has offered rockets that are proven and flying now. ULA, BO, & NG have offered paper rockets that may not even fly till 2021 (cough…SLS….cough. I’m talking about you BO). But I agree with the sentiments of Bobs comments, the Air Force should cut the timeline in half to allow for new entrants in early 2020’s

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “(I myself have been offered money to let military lobbying companies ghostwrite op-eds using my name, supporting this Air Force plan, offers that I very bluntly turned down.)

    I can’t help but wonder how many op-ed pieces that I have read in various aviation and space publications have been similarly ghostwritten and for how long this practice has gone on. Clearly these military lobbying companies think that they can attach respectable names to their own opinions, so they must have been successful with someone in the past and presumably will be successful again in the future.

    Thank you, Robert, for keeping high standards.

  • Edward: I have read a number of op-eds that to me were clearly an example of this ghost writing, usually those that lambast SpaceX in somewhat ridiculous and inaccurate ways.

    Without evidence however it would be inappropriate to directly make that accusation to the writer or publication.

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