Blue Origin’s protest to a U.S. governmental watchdog over NASA’s decision to award SpaceX a multi-billion dollar contract to develop a lunar lander was rejected.
The Government Accountability Office said Friday that it was denying both Blue Origin’s protest and a separate challenge filed by Dynetics, a defense contractor that also submitted a proposal for the contract. GAO concluded that NASA did not violate any laws or regulations when granting the sole award to SpaceX.
“As a result, GAO denied the protest arguments that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX,” the agency said in a statement.
The formal protest was over NASA’s decision to award the contract for the Human Landing System Program, which aims to return humans to the moon for the first time since Apollo, solely to SpaceX — and not to two companies, as was originally intended. SpaceX’s proposal for the Human Landing System Program came in at $2.9 billion, around half of Blue Origin’s $5.99 billion proposal. Earlier this week, Bezos penned an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson offering to knock $2 billion off that price to solve the “near-term budgetary issues” that caused NASA to select just one company for the contract.
NASA’s decision to give just one company the award did veer from historical standard, but GAO maintained that “the [contract] announcement reserved the right to make multiple awards, a single award, or no award at all.”
Blue Origin maintains that it was not given time to revise its bid after NASA concluded it did not have sufficient funding for two awards. “Blue Origin was plainly prejudiced by the Agency’s failure to communicate this change in requirements,” the company said in the protest. “Blue Origin could have and would have taken several actions to revise its proposed approach, reduce its price to more closely align with funding available to the Agency, and/or propose schedule alternatives.”
Blue Origin and Dynetics submitted their separate protests in April.
Update: In response to the decision, a Blue Origin spokesperson told TechCrunch:
“We stand firm in our belief that there were fundamental issues with NASA’s decision, but the GAO wasn’t able to address them due to their limited jurisdiction. We’ll continue to advocate for two immediate providers as we believe it is the right solution.”
The spokesperson noted that the company was encouraged by lawmakers adding a provision to a bill in Senate that would require NASA to select two providers for the HLS program.
Elon Musk, meanwhile, had this to say about the decision…
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 30, 2021
TechCrunch has reached out to Dynetics for comment. We will update the story if they respond.
One might think that a short week due to a U.S. holiday calls for a short weekly recap, but we have plenty to share about growth marketing from our coverage over the week. With the help of your recommendations, this week we were able to interview Peep Laja and Lucy Heskins, and publish multiple guest columns on growth-related topics including homepage testing, marketing lies to watch out for, VR ad opportunities, company-naming and ad compliance.
TechCrunch is collecting responses in this survey to find the best growth marketer for founders to work with. We’ve included some of our favorites, below the links.
This early-stage marketing expert says ‘B2B SaaS is actually very, very cool now’: Extra Crunch reporter Anna Heim interviews Wales-based growth marketer Lucy Heskins about her experience working with start-ups, how content marketing is best used, and more!
Navigating ad fraud and consumer privacy abuse in programmatic advertising: Did you know that “ad fraud exceeded $35 billion last year, a figure expected to rise to $50 billion by 2025”? Jalal Nasir, CEO of marketing compliance startup Pixalate, lends his thoughts about how business leaders and brands can ensure they don’t fall victim to the problem.
To stay ahead of your competitors, start building your narrative on day one: Anna also sat down with Peep Laja to discuss the importance of a startup being the one to write their own narrative and how it can mature with the company.
Demand Curve: How to double conversions on your startup’s homepage: Head of content Nick Costelloe looks at when it’s good to be unique, and when it’s best to stick to the status quo when working to double conversions on your homepage.
(Extra Crunch) Demand Curve: 10 lies you’ve been told about marketing: For subscribers, Costelloe goes through 10 lies you’ve heard about marketing, and what to try instead to create better results.
(Extra Crunch) Can advertising scale in VR?: Have you been on the fence about VR advertising for your company? AR/VR analyst Michael Boland lists out the pros and cons in this article.
(Extra Crunch) What I learned the hard way from naming 30+ startups: Naming a start-up might require more thought than you imagined. Marketing executive Drew Beechler takes us through what should be considered when picking out a name, like strategic alignment.
As always, please let us know if you can recommend a top-tier growth marketer who works with startups by filling out this quick survey.
Marketer: Nikita Vorobyev
Recommender: Ruby Club
Testimonial: “Nikita & his company, Buildrbrand, have worked tirelessly to bring my idea to life and did everything in his power to get it to the level it is today. He & his team created a world-class conditional quiz visual experience that I think would be really cool for him to share with the industry. He doesn’t know I nominated him, but I definitely wanted to give back to him in any way I can since I believe his agency creates some of the best brands going viral online right now.”
Recommender: Harry Willis, ShopPop
Testimonial: “They [have] shown considerable and demonstrable growth marketing success at various companies. One of them being MisterGreen, a Dutch Tesla-leasing company that had grown 10x under Max’s leadership.”
Testimonial: “Hired her to lead Product Marketing and she identified the opportunity to do growth in a much different way, which could significantly accelerate our company’s growth. So, she founded the Growth Marketing team and scaled the team from 1 person to 30 people in less than 2 years, based on all the success they had in growing our member base.”
Hey, founders between gigs: What now?
If you exited your last company for airplane money and are now independently wealthy, congratulations! If you want to build another company, just self-fund. If you want outside capital, VCs will chase after you to invest.
Unfortunately, most founders are not in that position: nine out of 10 startups fail. Even if you achieve a high valuation, you might end up like FanDuel’s founders: Their investors got the benefit of a $465 million exit; the founders got zero.
As someone with “founder” on your resume, you face a greater challenge when trying to get a traditional salaried job. You’ve already shown that you really want to lead a company and not just rise up the ladder, which means some employers are less likely to hire you. One research paper found:
[F]ormer founders receive fewer callbacks than non-founders; however, all founders are not disadvantaged similarly. Former founders of successful ventures receive even fewer [emphasis added] callbacks than former founders of failed ventures. Through 20 interviews with technical recruiters, we highlight the mechanisms driving this founder-experience discount: concerns related to the applicant’s capability and ability to fit into and remain committed to the wage employment and the hiring firm.
At my prior firm, ff Venture Capital, we invested in a company co-founded by Nate Jenkins, who had a successful exit, but not quite enough to buy a private plane. He’s now researching his next opportunity and interviewing for some jobs. At the end of a recent interview, the interviewer summarized, “I’ll hire you, but is this what you really want to do?”
That said, Samuel Sabin, CEO of HireBlue, observed, “Some founders who work better with more resources at their disposal may be tapped for intrapreneurship roles. Also, some companies value a self-starter mentality.”
So what should you do? Especially if your life partner and/or bank account are burnt out on the income volatility of startups?
I’ve been in this situation myself when I shut down one startup and exited two others. I think you have six main options:
If you want to work on your startup idea, the bar for starting a company should always be very high. VCs have a diversified portfolio and most of their investments die. You don’t have a diverse portfolio and so you’re taking far more risk than the VCs. For free resources to help research your ideas, see What startup will you build? Identifying market white space.
The last time humans visited the moon in 1972, they got around on a relatively simple battery-powered vehicle. As NASA prepares for the next crewed mission to the moon, it’s looking to give the lunar rover an upgrade.
Lockheed Martin and General Motors said Wednesday they’re working together to develop a next-generation lunar vehicle designed to be faster and capable of traveling farther distances than its predecessor. If the project is selected by NASA, the rover would be used on the upcoming Artemis missions. The first mission, which will be an uncrewed test flight, is scheduled for November. The request for proposals will likely be published in the third or fourth quarter of this year, executives said at a media briefing Wednesday. NASA will award the contract after evaluating the submitted proposals.
The previous rover was only capable of traveling less than five miles from the Apollo landing site, limiting the astronauts’ ability to collect important data on far-flung lunar locales, like the north and south poles. The Moon’s circumference is nearly 7,000 miles. The two companies are aiming to improve the specs, Lockheed’s VP for lunar exploration Kirk Shireman said, noting that the exact materials used for the new rover, its range and other capabilities have yet to be determined.
GM will also be developing an autonomous driving system for the rover, which executives said Wednesday will improve safety and the ability for astronauts to collect samples and conduct other scientific research. GM is investing more than $27 billion through 2025 in electric and autonomous vehicle technologies and it aims to bring that research to the lunar rover project, Jeffrey Ryder, VP of growth and strategy at GM Defense, said. “We’re heads-down right now in investigating how we would take those capabilities and apply them to specific missions and operation associated with the Artemis program.”
GM also said it will be using its earth-bound research into battery and propulsion systems in developing the rover. Ryder anticipates that the rover program will lead to other market opportunities.
Both companies have supplied technology for NASA missions before, including its lunar missions. Auto manufacturer GM helped develop the previous lunar rover that was used during the Apollo era, including its chassis and wheels. It also manufactured and integrated guidance and navigational systems for the program. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s experience extends to building spacecraft and power systems that have been included on every NASA mission to Mars.
The companies said this was “one of several initiatives” they’re working on together, with further announcements regarding other projects expected in the future.