SpaceX, Blue Origin awarded NASA contracts to develop moon lander concepts for future Artemis missions

NASA has awarded a combined $146 million in contracts to five companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics, to develop lander concepts as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

The awards include $26.5 million to Blue Origin; $40.8 million to Dynetics; $35.2 million to Lockheed Martin; $34.8 million to Northrop Grumman; and $9.4 million to SpaceX. Only two companies that submitted proposals, Blue Ridge Nebula Starlines and Cook & Chevalier Enterprises, did not receive contracts.

The contracts were awarded under NextSTEP-2 (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships) Appendix N: Sustainable Human Landing System Studies and Risk Reduction. The solicitation, released at the beginning of July, says the objective of the contract is “to engage with potential commercial partners for concept studies, sustaining HLS concept of operations (ground and flight) development, and risk reduction activities.”

What that means in practice is that the selected companies will develop lander design concepts, including conducting component tests, and evaluate them for things like performance and safety.

These awards are separate from the Human Landing System contract that was given to SpaceX earlier this year — the one that both Blue Origin and Dynetics disputed to a government watchdog, and that Blue Origin later opposed in a lawsuit against NASA that’s still ongoing.

However, the outcome of this batch of awards will likely inform future lander development contracts through the rest of the decade. “The work from these companies will ultimately help shape the strategy and requirements for a future NASA’s solicitation to provide regular astronaut transportation from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon,” the agency said in a statement.

The Artemis program was established in 2020 with a number of objectives, not only to return humans to the moon for the first time since the days of Apollo but to make such travel routine by the late 2020s. NASA isn’t just stopping at the moon; the agency also wants to expand into inter-planetary exploration, including human missions to Mars.

Defense Department seeks nuclear propulsion for small spacecraft

The US Defense Department’s ambitions beyond Earth just grew a little clearer. SpaceNews has learned the department recently put out a call for privately-made nuclear propulsion systems that could power small- and mid-sized spacecraft. The DoD wants to launch missions venturing beyond Earth orbit, and existing electric and solar spacecraft are neither suitable for that job nor suitable to smaller vehicles, the department’s Defense Innovation Unit said.

The nuclear propulsion system will ideally offer “high delta-V” (above 33ft/s) while scaling down to less than 2,000kg in dry mass (4,409lbs on Earth). On top of providing electricity for the payload, the technology will hopefully keep the spacecraft warm when in shadow and minimize radiation both on the ground and to other components. Responses are expected by September 23rd, with contracts handed out as quickly as 60 to 90 days afterward.

Officials acknowledged they were making the request as a matter of expediency. NASA and other agencies are already developing or backing nuclear spacecraft, but those won’t be ready for a long while. The DoD is hoping for a prototype within three to five years — this technology would serve as a stopgap that puts nuclear propulsion into service relatively quickly for near-term projects.

While the request didn’t provide clues as to what spacecraft were in the works, the focus on smaller spacecraft suggests it could involve probes, satellites or other vehicles with modest goals. You won’t see this power human trips to Mars. All the same, it’s clear the DoD is frustrated by the limitations of existing spacecraft engines and wants a fast track to more powerful designs.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

Pandemic-driven liquid oxygen shortage threatens ULA, SpaceX launches

The ongoing reverberations from the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing to make themselves felt in the most unlikely of places: spaceflight. On Friday, NASA took the unexpected step to ground a September satellite launch due to pandemic-related shortages of liquid oxygen (LOX), and there may be more launch delays yet to come.

Demand for oxygen has only risen with the Delta variant, which in many cities pushed hospitalization and ICU admittance rates back to where they were at the start of the pandemic. But oxygen isn’t just used in ventilators. The space industry uses LOX as an oxidizer in rocket propellant, often in combination with other gases like liquid hydrogen. (That’s why there can be so much steam during a launch – it’s the hydrogen reacting with the oxygen to form water.)

NASA and United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, said the launch date for the Landsat 9 satellite will now take place on September 23.

ULA isn’t the only launch company to potentially be impacted by the LOX shortage. “We’re actually going to be impacted this year with the lack of liquid oxygen for launch,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said last week during a panel at the Space Symposium. “We certainly are going to make sure the hospitals are going to have the oxygen that they need, but for anybody who has liquid oxygen to spare, send me an email.”

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, was more tempered a few days later on Twitter, saying that the LOX shortage “is a risk, but not yet a limiting factor.”

Even beyond the actual supply of oxygen, the gas shortage is also being exacerbated by widespread shipping delays as coronavirus-related disruptions continue to impact the supply chain. ULA CEO Tory Bruno added on Twitter that a contractor who handles nitrogen transportation to Vandenberg Space Force Base in California was diverted to assist with LOX delivery in Florida.

It’s not just the space industry that’s feeling the effects of the LOX squeeze: shortly before NASA announced the launch delay, Orlando, Florida officials sent out a separate notice urging residents to conserve water, as LOX is used to treat the city’s water supply.

“Nationally, the demand for liquid oxygen is extremely high as the priority for its use is to save lives, which is limiting the supply that [Orlando municipal water utility] OUC is receiving,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said on Facebook. “There could be impacts to our water quality if we do not immediately reduce the amount of water we need to treat.”

As early as May of last year, the nonprofit Center for Global Development called COVID-19 a “wake-up call” for ensuring an adequate supply of oxygen to hospitals.

Watch Blue Origin launch a test of NASA’s future Moon landing tech live

Blue Origin’s last launch was its landmark first human flight, carrying Jeff Bezos, his brother, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen to suborbital space. Today, it’s flying New Shepard again — without any people on board, this time, but with a key payload from NASA that will test technologies the agency is using to develop a human landing system for future missions to the Moon.

The NS-17 launch (which stands for New Shepard 17, since it’s the 17th time Blue Origin’s fully reusable suborbital rocket will be taking off) is set to take place at 9:35 AM EDT (6:35 AM PDT) from the company’s launch site in West Texas. The NASA payload on board will test technologies including a Doppler Lidar sensor array that should help future lunar landing craft get a very detailed picture of the details of the landing zone they’re targeting, and a Descent Landing Computer that handles processing of the sensor data. Blue Origin flew elements of this system once before, last October, and improvements have already been made based on that test that are integrated into this version.

The Blue Origin capsule also carries a number of other experiments, both form NASA and from academic institutions including the University of Florida. The launch plan includes a take-off, separation of the capsule, a controlled return powered landing for the booster, and a parachute-assisted landing for the capsule after a few minutes spent in suborbital space.

You can watch the livestream above, kicking off around 30 minutes prior to the target lift-off time.

Peter Beck on Rocket Lab’s public listing debut, space SPACs, and the Neutron rocket

Peter Beck’s earliest memory is standing outside with his father in his hometown of Invercargill, New Zealand, looking up at the stars, and being told that there could very well be people on planets orbiting those stars looking right back at him.

“For a three or four year old, that was a mind-blowing thing that got etched into my memory and from that point onwards, that was me destined to work in the space industry,” he said at the Space Generation Fusion Forum (SGFF).

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But it’s true that Beck’s career has been characterized by an unusually single-minded focus on rocketry. Instead of going to university, Beck got a trade job, working as a tool-making apprentice by day and a dilettante rocket engine maker by night. “I was very, very fortunate through my career that the companies I worked with and worked for, and the government organizations that I’ve worked for, always encouraged – or tolerated, maybe is a better word – me using their facilities and doing things in their facilities at night,” he said.

His tinkering matured with experience, and working double-time paid off: in 2006, he founded his space launch company Rocket Lab. Now, fifteen years and 21 launches later, the company has gone public through a merger with a blank-check firm that’s added $777 million to its war chest.

The space SPAC craze

The merger with Vector Acquisition catapulted Rocket Lab’s valuation to $4.8 billion, putting it second (by value) amongst space launch companies only to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. SPACs have become a popular route to going public amongst space industry companies looking to secure large amounts of capital; rival satellite launch startups Virgin Orbit and Astra have each started trading via a SPAC merger, in addition to other companies in the sector, like Redwire, Planet and Satellogic (to name just a few).

Beck told TechCrunch that going public has been part of Rocket Lab’s plans for years; the original plan was to use a traditional initial public offering, but the SPAC route in particular enabled certainty around capital and valuation. According to an March investor presentation in advance of the SPAC merger – documents that should always be taken with a large grain of salt – the future is bright: Rocket Lab anticipates revenues of $749 million in 2025 and surpassing $1 billion the following year. The company reported revenues of $48 million in 2019 and $33 million in 2020, and anticipates hitting around $69 million this year.

But he remains skeptical of pre-revenue space startups, or those that failed to raise capital, using SPACs as a financial instrument. “There has been a lot of space SPACs go out, and I think that there is a spectrum of quality there for sure – some that have failed to raise money in the private markets, and [a SPAC merger] is the last-ditch attempt. That is no way to become a public company.”

While the space industry is relatively crowded now, with companies like Rocket Lab and SpaceX sending payloads to orbit and myriad newer entrants looking to join them (or, more optimistically, take their leading place), Beck said he anticipates the crowd thinning out.

“It’s going to become blatantly obvious to investors really quickly, who’s executing, and who’s aspiring to execute,” he said. “We’re in a time where there’s lots of excitement, but at the end of the day, this industry and the public markets is all about execution. The wheat from the chaff will get separated very, very quickly here.”

From Electron to Neutron

Rocket Lab’s revenues have largely come from the small payload launch market, in which it’s managed to take a leading position with its Electron rocket. Electron is only 59 feet tall and scarcely four feet in diameter, significantly smaller than other rockets going to space today. The company conducts launches from two sites: its privately-owned launch range on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, and a launch pad out of NASA’s Wallops Island facility in Virginia (which has yet to play host to an actual Rocket Lab mission).

Rocket Lab is in the process of transitioning Electron’s first-stage booster to be reusable. The company has been implementing a new atmospheric reentry and ocean splashdown process that uses a parachute to slow the booster’s descent, but the ultimate goal is to catch it in the air using a helicopter.

Thus far, Rocket Lab and SpaceX have dominated the market, but that could change soon. Both Astra and Relativity are developing small launch vehicles – the latest iteration of Astra’s rocket is around 40 feet tall, while Relativity’s Terran 1 is in-between Electron and Falcon 9 at 115 feet.

For that reason, it makes sense that Rocket Lab is planning on expanding its operations to include medium-lift rocketry, with its much-anticipated (and very mysterious) Neutron launch vehicle. The company has been keeping the details about Neutron close to its chest so far – Beck told SGFF attendees that even publicly-released renderings of the rocket have been “a bit of a ruse” (meaning the image below bears little to no resemblance to what the Neutron actually looks like) – but it’s expected to be more than double the height of Electron and be capable of sending around 8,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit.

Image Credits: Rocket Lab

“We do see a lot of people in the industry copying us in many ways,” he explained to TechCrunch. “So, we’d rather get a little bit further down the path and then reveal the work that we’ve done.”

Rocket Lab estimates that Electron and Neutron will be capable of lifting 98% of all satellites forecasted to launch through 2029, making the need for an additional heavy-lift rocket unnecessary.

In addition to Neutron, the company has also started developing spacecraft. It’s called Photon, and Rocket Lab imagines it as a “satellite platform” that can easily be integrated with the Electron rocket. The company’s already lined up Photon missions to the moon and beyond: first to lunar orbit for NASA, as part of its Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) program.

Two Photons were selected earlier this month for an 11-month mission to Mars, and Beck has publicly discussed long-term plans to send a probe into Venus’ atmosphere via a Photon satellite.

Beyond Photon, Rocket Lab has also locked in a deal with space manufacturing startup Varda Space Industries to build it a spacecraft, to launch in 2023 and 2024.

Neutron has been designed to be human-rateable right from the start, meaning that it will meet certain safety specifications for carrying astronauts. Beck said he’s certain that “we are going to see the democratization of spaceflight” and he wants Rocket Lab to be well-poised to deliver that service in the future. In terms of whether Rocket Lab would eventually expand into building other spacecraft, like landers or human-rated capsules, Beck demurred.

“Never, ever say never,” he said. “That’s the one takeaway I’ve learned in my career as a space CEO.”

Ispace unveils bigger moon lander capable of surviving lunar nights

Ispace, a Japanese space startup that aims to lead the development of a lunar economy, has unveiled its design for a large lander that could go to the moon as early as 2024.

Tokyo-based ispace said this next-gen lander, dubbed Series 2, would be used on the company’s third planned moon mission. The lander is both larger in size and payload capacity than the company’s first lander, coming in at around 9 feet tall and 14 feet wide including legs. The vehicle will be capable of carrying up to 500 kilograms to the moon’s surface and 2,000 kilograms to lunar orbit. Series 1, which will fly in 2022 and 2023, has a maximum payload capacity of only 30 kilograms.

Crucially, the new lander is designed to be able to survive the frigid lunar nighttime, possibly as long as a two-week stint on the moon’s surface. It’s also capable of landing on either the near or far side of the moon, including its polar regions.

The new lander has a few other features as well: It has multiple payload bays, and an advanced guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system to ensure the craft sticks the landing on the moon’s surface. The GNC technology is being provided by engineering developer Draper, a company with a deep footprint in the space industry. Draper is also one of 14 eligible contractors for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.

Ispace said in a statement that the lander has completed its preliminary design review; the next stage is manufacturing and assembly, which will be completed in partnership with General Atomics, a defense and aerospace technology company.

The partnership with Draper — a CLPS contractor — is key, as ispace wants its Series 2 to compete in the NASA program. “Over the next few months, we will work closely with Draper and General Atomics to prepare for the next NASA CLPS task order,” Kyle Acierno, CEO of ispace’s U.S.-based subsidiary, said.

Ispace is developing the next-gen lander out of its North American offices in Colorado, and it intends to also manufacture the vehicle in the United States. In the meanwhile, the company is still at work preparing for its first two lunar missions in 2022 and 2023. The company said the Series 1 lander is undergoing final assembly of the flight module at a facility in Germany owned by space launch company ArianeGroup. The customer manifest for the first mission is full, but ispace did say payload capacity is still available for the subsequent mission.

The lander unveiling comes just weeks after ispace announced the close of a $46 million Series C funding round, capital it said at the time would go toward the second and third planned missions.

Rocket Lab’s Mars mission gets green light from NASA

Rocket Lab is one step closer to going to Mars with NASA’s approval of the company’s Photon spacecraft for an upcoming science mission. If all continues according to plan the two craft will launch in 2024 and arrive on the Red Planet 11 months later to study its magnetosphere.

The mission is known as the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, or ESCAPADE (hats off to whoever worked that one out), and was proposed for a small satellite science program back in 2019, eventually being chosen as a finalist. UC Berkeley researchers are the main force behind the science part.

These satellites have to be less than 180 kilograms (about 400 pounds) and must perform standalone science missions, part of a new program aiming at more lightweight, shorter lead missions that can be performed with strong commercial industry collaboration. A few concepts have been baking since the original announcement of the program, and ESCAPADE just passed Key Decision Point C, meaning it’s ready to go from concept to reality.

This particular mission is actually a pair of satellites, a perk that no doubt contributed to its successful selection. Rocket Lab’s whole intention with the Photon program is to provide a more or less turnkey design for various space operations, from orbital work to interplanetary science missions like this one.

Interestingly, Rocket Lab won’t actually be launching the mission aboard one of its Electron rockets — the satellites will be aboard a “NASA-provided commercial launch vehicle,” which leaves it up to them. Perhaps by that time the company will be in the running for the contract, but for now Rocket Lab is only building the spacecraft, including most of the non-scientific onboard components: navigation, orientation, propulsion, etc.

ESCAPADE is an innovative mission that demonstrates that advanced interplanetary science is now within reach for a fraction of traditional costs, and we’re proud to make it possible with Photon. We are delighted to receive the green light from NASA to proceed to flight,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck in the company’s announcement of the milestone.

Rocket Lab is already under contract to lift a CubeSat to cislunar orbit for Artemis purposes, and has locked in a deal with Varda Space Industries to build that company’s spacecraft, for launch in 2023 and 2024.

Rocket Lab’s Mars mission gets green light from NASA

Rocket Lab is one step closer to going to Mars with NASA’s approval of the company’s Photon spacecraft for an upcoming science mission. If all continues according to plan the two craft will launch in 2024 and arrive on the Red Planet 11 months later to study its magnetosphere.

The mission is known as the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, or ESCAPADE (hats off to whoever worked that one out), and was proposed for a small satellite science program back in 2019, eventually being chosen as a finalist. UC Berkeley researchers are the main force behind the science part.

These satellites have to be less than 180 kilograms (about 400 pounds) and must perform standalone science missions, part of a new program aiming at more lightweight, shorter lead missions that can be performed with strong commercial industry collaboration. A few concepts have been baking since the original announcement of the program, and ESCAPADE just passed Key Decision Point C, meaning it’s ready to go from concept to reality.

This particular mission is actually a pair of satellites, a perk that no doubt contributed to its successful selection. Rocket Lab’s whole intention with the Photon program is to provide a more or less turnkey design for various space operations, from orbital work to interplanetary science missions like this one.

Interestingly, Rocket Lab won’t actually be launching the mission aboard one of its Electron rockets — the satellites will be aboard a “NASA-provided commercial launch vehicle,” which leaves it up to them. Perhaps by that time the company will be in the running for the contract, but for now Rocket Lab is only building the spacecraft, including most of the non-scientific onboard components: navigation, orientation, propulsion, etc.

ESCAPADE is an innovative mission that demonstrates that advanced interplanetary science is now within reach for a fraction of traditional costs, and we’re proud to make it possible with Photon. We are delighted to receive the green light from NASA to proceed to flight,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck in the company’s announcement of the milestone.

Rocket Lab is already under contract to lift a CubeSat to cislunar orbit for Artemis purposes, and has locked in a deal with Varda Space Industries to build that company’s spacecraft, for launch in 2023 and 2024.

Suing your way to the stars

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

I’m back from a very fun and rehabilitative couple weeks away from my phone, my Twitter account and the news cycle. That said, I actually really missed writing this newsletter, and while Greg did a fantastic job while I was out, I won’t be handing over the reins again anytime soon. Plenty happened this week and I struggled to zero in on a single topic to address, but I finally chose to focus on Bezos’s Blue Origin suing NASA.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

I was going to write about OnlyFans for the newsletter this week and their fairly shocking move to ban sexually explicit content from their site in a bid to stay friendly with payment processors, but alas I couldn’t help myself and wrote an article for ole TechCrunch dot com instead. Here’s a link if you’re curious.

Now, I should also note that while I was on vacation I missed all of the conversation surrounding Apple’s incredibly controversial child sexual abuse material detection software that really seems to compromise the perceived integrity of personal devices. I’m not alone in finding this to be a pretty worrisome development despite Apple’s intention of staving off a worse alternative. Hopefully, one of these weeks I’ll have the time to talk with some of the folks in the decentralized computing space about how our monolithic reliance on a couple tech companies operating with precious little consumer input is very bad. In the meantime, I will point you to some reporting from TechCrunch’s own Zack Whittaker on the topic which you should peruse because I’m sure it will be a topic I revisit here in the future.

Now then! Onto the topic at hand.

Federal government agencies don’t generally inspire much adoration. While great things have been accomplished at the behest of ample federal funding and the tireless work of civil servants, most agencies are treated as bureaucratic bloat and aren’t generally seen as anything worth passionately defending. Among the public and technologists in particular, NASA occupies a bit more of a sacred space. The American space agency has generally been a source of bipartisan enthusiasm, as has its goal to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024.

Which brings us to some news this week. While so much digital ink was spilled on Jeff Bezos’s little jaunt to the edge of space, cowboy hat, champagne and all, there’s been less fanfare around his space startup’s lawsuit against NASA, which we’ve now learned will delay the development of a new lunar lander by months, potentially throwing NASA’s goal to return astronauts to the moon’s surface on schedule into doubt.

Bezos’s upstart Blue Origin is protesting the fact that they were not awarded a government contract while Elon Musk’s SpaceX earned a $2.89 billion contract to build a lunar lander. This contract wasn’t just recently awarded either, SpaceX won it back in April and Blue Origin had already filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office. This happened before Bezos penned an open letter promising a $2 billion discount for NASA which had seen budget cuts at the hands of Congress dash its hoped to award multiple contracts. None of these maneuverings proved convincing enough for the folks at NASA, pushing Bezos’s space startup to sue the agency.

This little feud has caused long-minded Twitter users to dig up this little gem from a Bezos 2019 speech — as transcribed by Gizmodo — highlighting Bezos’s own distaste for how bureaucracy and greed have hampered NASA’s ability to reach for the stars:

“To the degree that big NASA programs become seen as jobs programs and that they have to be distributed to the right states where the right Senators live, and so on. That is going to change the objective. Now your objective is not to, you know, whatever it is, to get a man to the moon or a woman to the moon, but instead to get a woman to the moon while preserving X number of jobs in my district. That is a complexifier, and not a healthy one…[…]

Today, there would be, you know, three protests, and the losers would sue the federal government because they didn’t win. It’s interesting, but the thing that slows things down is procurement. It’s become the bigger bottleneck than the technology, which I know for a fact for all the well meaning people at NASA is frustrating.

A Blue Origin spokesperson called the suit, an “attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System.” But the lawsuit really seems to highlight how dire this deal is to the ability of Blue Origin to lock down top talent. Whether the startup can handle the reputational risk of suing NASA and delaying America’s return to the moon seems to be a question very much worth asking.


Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, south of Los Angeles, California on December 18, 2018.

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

OnlyFans bans “sexually explicit content”
A lot of people had pretty visceral reactions to OnlyFans killing off what seems to be a pretty big chunk of its business, outlawing “sexually explicit content” on the platform. It seems the decision was reached as a result of banking and payment partners leaning on the company.

Musk “unveils” the “Tesla Bot”
I truly struggle to even call this news, but I’d be remiss not to highlight how Elon Musk had a guy dress up in a spandex outfit and walk around doing the robot and spawned hundreds of news stories about his new “Tesla Bot.” While there certainly could be a product opportunity here for Tesla at some point, I would bet all of the dogecoin in the world that his prototype “coming next year” either never arrives or falls hilariously short of expectations.

Facebook drops a VR meeting simulator
This week, Facebook released one of its better virtual reality apps, a workplace app designed to help people host meetings inside virtual reality. To be clear, no one really asked for this, but the company made a full court PR press for the app which will help headset owners simulate the pristine experience of sitting in a conference room.

Social platforms wrestle with Taliban presence on platforms
Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, social media platforms are being pushed to clarify their policies around accounts operated by identified Taliban members. It’s put some of the platforms in a hairy situation.

Facebook releases content transparency report
This week, Facebook released its first ever content transparency report, highlighting what data on the site had the most reach over a given time period, in this case a three-month period. Compared to lists highlighting which posts get the most engagement on the platform, lists generally populated mostly by right wing influencers and news sources, the list of posts with the most reach seems to be pretty benign.

Safety regulators open inquiry into Tesla Autopilot
While Musk talks about building a branded humanoid robot, U.S. safety regulators are concerned with why Tesla vehicles on Autopilot are crashing into so many parked emergency response vehicles.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

The Nuro EC-1
“..Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu aren’t the only Google self-driving project employees to launch an AV startup, but they might be the most underrated. Their company, Nuro, is valued at $5 billion and has high-profile partnerships with leaders in retail, logistics and food including FedEx, Domino’s and Walmart. And, they seem to have navigated the regulatory obstacle course with success — at least so far…”

A VC shares 5 keys to pitching VCs
“The success of a fundraising process is entirely dependent on how well an entrepreneur can manage it. At this stage, it is important for founders to be honest, straightforward and recognize the value meetings with venture capitalists and investors can bring beyond just the monetary aspect..

A crash course on corporate development
“…If you’re going to get acquired, chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time with corporate development teams. With a hot stock market, mountains of cash and cheap debt floating around, the environment for acquisitions is extremely rich.”


Thanks for reading! Until next week…

Lucas M.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin goes toe to toe with NASA in federal court over award to SpaceX

Blue Origin, the space company helmed by billionaire Jeff Bezos, is taking NASA to court. The company filed a complaint with a federal claims court on Monday over the agency’s decision to award a lunar lander contract solely to rival company SpaceX.

The complaint, which Blue Origin successfully petitioned to have sealed, says NASA’s evaluation of proposals for the the Human Landing System was “unlawful and improper.”

“Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America.”

The Human Landing System, a key part of NASA’s forthcoming Artemis program, is the lander that will return humans to the moon’s surface for the first time since the days of Apollo. NASA aims to have the human lander touching down at the lunar south pole in 2024.

In April, NASA awarded the HLS contract to a single company – SpaceX, which submitted a $2.9 billion bid. That NASA selected only one company, rather than two, was a surprise (the agency likes to hedge its bets). Only a few weeks later, Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics, which also submitted a bid for the lander program, filed separate protests with the Government Accountability Office over the decision. GAO later upheld NASA’s decision, maintaining that “the [contract] announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all.”

(Read a blow-by-blow of GAO’s rationale by TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey here).

When GAO released its decision, it seemed like that might have been case closed: SpaceX won, Blue Origin lost. This new lawsuit, filed to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, is a clear signal that Jeff Bezos’ company has no intention of backing down.

If a federal court filing represents Blue Origin’s buttoned-up protests, the company has also been waging a separate attack on social media, releasing a series of infographics aimed at discrediting SpaceX’s Starship and NASA’s decision to use it for moon missions.

On one infographic, referring to Starship, the words “IMMENSELY COMPLEX & HIGH RISK” blaze across the image in red; another described it as “a launch vehicle that has never flown to orbit and is still being designed.”

The case number is 1:21-cv-01695-RAH. TechCrunch has reached out to NASA for comment and will update the story if they respond.