Blue Origin, the space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, lost its bid to stop a US$2.9 billion NASA award to Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a landing system to return astronauts to the moon.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office said Friday that NASA wasn’t required to hand out more than one contract for the lander -- as Blue Origin and its partners argued -- despite the agency’s stated preference for providing multiple awards. NASA had said its contract decision would be driven by budget constraints, leading to the single award in April for SpaceX.

The space agency’s evaluation of three lander proposals was “reasonable, and consistent with applicable procurement law, regulation, and the announcement’s terms,” GAO attorney Kenneth Patton said in a statement.

Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, said it remains “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.” 

The rocket maker said it would continue to press for two lunar-lander contractors, “as we believe it is the right solution.”

On July 26, Bezos -- the world’s richest man and founder of Amazon.com Inc. -- offered NASA more than US$2 billion in free work if Blue Origin were allowed to proceed with its lander proposal. It also had pledged to cover the costs of a technology demonstration in low-Earth orbit.