Jeff Bezos Offers to Fund $2Bn NASA Costs to Secure Moon Lander Contract For 'Blue Origin'
08:48 GMT 27.07.2021 (Updated: 08:49 GMT 27.07.2021)
In 2020 NASA gave three US companies - SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics - study contracts to design and develop the first commercial human landing systems (HLS) to send astronauts to the Moon as part of its Artemis program, eventually awarding the $2.9 billion contract to Elon Musk’s firm in April.
Billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos has offered
to cover billions in National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) costs to persuade the US space agency to award his company Blue Origin a moon lander contract.
Earlier in April, NASA awarded rival billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX
the $2.9 billion contract for the Human Landing System programme that seeks to return astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2024.
In an effort to propel the company founded by the executive chairman of Amazon in 2000 back into the competition, Jeff Bezos said
Blue Origin would waive all payments up to $2 billion from NASA in the current and next two government fiscal years.
“This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments. This offer provides time for government appropriation actions to catch up,” said Bezos in an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
In line with the proposals, Blue Origin would fund its own pathfinder mission to low-Earth orbit, while in return seeking a fixed-priced contract from the government agency.
Criticising the NASA decision to award SpaceX the contract, Bezos, who made a short journey into space
on 20 July on Blue Origin's rocket-and-capsule New Shepard, wrote in the letter:
“Instead of this single source approach, NASA should embrace its original strategy of competition. Without competition, a short time into the contract, NASA will find itself with limited options as it attempts to negotiate missed deadlines, design changes, and cost overruns.”
Tussle for Lunar Lander Contract
Last year, NASA selected three US companies for study contracts to design and develop human landing systems (HLS) for the agency’s Artemis programme,
which seeks to land astronauts on the surface of the Moon by 2024 (for the first time since 1972) as part of its sustainable human exploration of Earth's largest natural satellite.
The hand-picked companies were Blue Origin, Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. For the bid, Blue Origin had partnered with Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) and Draper.
Eventually, NASA went with Musk’s company, citing budget concerns and lack of funding from Congress, arguing its case for selecting just one company. It had also plugged SpaceX's tested track record of orbital missions.
Senior NASA official Kathy Lueders had referred to the contract decision as being "what's the best value to the government."
The agency had touted SpaceX’s HLS Starship, designed to land on the Moon surface and based on Raptor engines, and the flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles.
On 26 April Blue Origin filed a protest with the US Government Accountability Office, described the award of the contract to SpaceX as "flawed" in a statement
to Insider. It added that NASA "moved the goalposts at the last minute" and negotiated a proposed price with SpaceX, but not with Blue Origin.
The GAO's decision is expected by early August.
In response to the current letter by Jeff Bezos, a NASA spokesperson was cited by Reuters as saying the agency was aware of the offer, but declined to provide more details. There has not yet been a comment on the developments by a SpaceX spokesperson.