“I do,” said Mr. Nelson. “The competition is always good.”

Mr Smith said NASA has hired more than one company in the past with programs similar to space station missions, despite a lack of security for future budgets.

The Blue Origin-led offering was more than double that of SpaceX at $ 6.0 billion. But Mr Smith said NASA had returned to SpaceX and negotiated the price of their proposal, despite not having had similar conversations with the other two teams.

“We haven’t had a chance to revise and that’s basically unfair,” said Mr Smith.

Less than $ 9 billion would have paid for two landers, and that’s comparable to the $ 8.3 billion cost of the commercial occupation program that now enables transportation to the space station, the protest argued.

“NASA receives great value from these proposals,” said Smith.

The evaluations of the offers by NASA resulted in evaluations of the technical aspects of the proposals by Blue Origin and SpaceX as “acceptable”. The rating of Dynetics was lower and was “marginal”. SpaceX’s management was rated “excellent” while Blue Origin and its partners, as well as Dynetics, were rated “very good”.

Mr Smith said NASA misjudged aspects of its proposal such as the communications system and redundancy in guidance and navigation as vulnerabilities. He also said it downplayed the risks in SpaceX’s design, such as the need to refuel Starship in orbit, which has never been attempted before.

NASA evaluators “largely disliked the difficulty in the number of launches and rendezvous required for the SpaceX proposed solution,” Smith said. “The risk of a SpaceX development is high.”

The Government Accountability Office has 100 days to decide on the protest.

This isn’t the first time Blue Origin and SpaceX have been fighting over a NASA contract. In 2013, NASA chose SpaceX to take over Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which was used for Saturn 5 launches during Apollo and then for space shuttle launches.