Enlarge /. Doug Loverro, former NASA head of human space.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia has opened a criminal investigation into a former senior NASA official, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The grand jury's investigation concerns communications between Doug Loverro, then head of human space at NASA, and Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing's space and launch operations. These discussions took place earlier this year during a lockdown period when NASA accepted offers to build a human landing system for the Artemis Moon program. It is not allowed to disrupt competition for government contracts.
"Mr. Loverro, who was not one of NASA's official contract agents, told Mr. Philton that the Chicago aerospace giant would be excluded from the competition due to cost and technical evaluations," the report said, citing not identified sources. "Within a few days, Boeing submitted a revised proposal."
Loverro resigned from NASA in mid-May, a few weeks after NASA awarded three Human Landing Systems contracts: $ 579 million to a team led by Blue Origin, $ 253 million to Dynetics, and $ 135 million Dollars to SpaceX. Boeing and one other bidder did not receive any awards.
While this news release contains new information about the criminal investigation, it doesn't include much additional detail beyond the broad outline of what was known after Loverro's resignation in May 2020. Some important questions remain open.
One is whether Loverro was acting alone – or whether he at least had the tacit approval of NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to reach Boeing. Multiple sources have said that Loverro actually acted on his own, but that fact will likely not be known until NASA's Inspector General has completed an investigation into the matter. This investigation began earlier this year.
Another question is what Loverro's motives were. If he had received any setbacks, Loverro could face jail time. However, this does not appear to have been the case. Several sources told Ars that Loverro believes Boeing's proposal to launch an integrated landing system on a space launch system to the moon is the simplest approach to getting people to land on the moon by 2024. So he wanted the company to submit a competitive bid.
Finally, the question arises what this means for the Artemis program. For the coming fiscal year, the White House asked for $ 3.37 billion to accelerate development of the lander and meet its 2024 target. However, the budget proposed by the US House only provides $ 628.2 million for the lander. A final budget could come later this year after negotiations with the House and Senate.
However, concerns about the ongoing Boeing and Loverro investigation could fuel a desire by Congress to slow funding for the Artemis program, and the lander in particular.