Fresh off his trip to space, billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos on Monday offered to cover up to US$2 billion in NASA costs if the US space agency awards his company Blue Origin a contract to make a spacecraft designed to land astronauts back on the moon.
NASA in April awarded rival billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX a US$2.9 billion contract to build a spacecraft to take astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2024, rejecting bids from Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics.
Blue Origin had partnered with Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and Draper in the bid.
The space agency cited its own funding shortfalls, SpaceX’s proven record of orbital missions and other factors in a contract decision that NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders called “what’s the best value to the government.”
In a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Bezos said that Blue Origin would waive payments in the US government’s current fiscal year and the next ones after that up to US$2 billion, and pay for an orbital mission to vet its technology.
In exchange, Blue Origin would accept a firm, fixed-priced contract, and cover any system development cost overruns, Bezos said.
“NASA veered from its original dual-source acquisition strategy due to perceived near-term budgetary issues, and this offer removes that obstacle,” Bezos wrote. “Without competition, NASA’s short-term and long-term lunar ambitions will be delayed, will ultimately cost more, and won’t serve the national interest.”
A NASA spokesperson said that the agency was aware of Bezos’ letter, but declined to comment further, citing the protest Blue Origin filed with the US Government Accountability Office accusing the agency of giving SpaceX an unfair advantage by allowing it to revise its pricing.
The office’s decision is expected early next month, though industry sources said Blue Origin views the possibility of a reversal as unlikely.
A SpaceX spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Before choosing SpaceX, NASA had asked for proposals for a spacecraft that would carry astronauts to the lunar surface under its Artemis program to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972.
Bezos and Musk are the world’s richest and third-richest people respectively, according to Forbes magazine.
Bezos’ offer came six days after he flew alongside three crew to the edge of space aboard Blue Origin’s rocket-and-capsule New Shepard, a milestone for the company’s bid to become a major player in an emerging space tourism market.
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