Bezos' Blue Origin to NASA: We'll pay to build you a lunar lander

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

Earlier this month Jeff Bezos flew about 66 miles up on his Blue Origin New Shepard launch vehicle. Today, Bezos is making a play for the next step in Blue Origin’s development. He’s asking NASA to reconsider it’s decision to award Space X the sole contract to bring astronauts back to the moon. Space X won that contract in April:


NASA announced on Friday that it had awarded a contract to SpaceX for $2.9 billion to use Starship to take astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon.

The contract extends NASA’s trend of relying on private companies to ferry people, cargo and robotic explorers to space. But it also represents something of a triumph for Mr. Musk in the battle of space billionaires. One of the competitors for the NASA lunar contract was Blue Origin, created by Jeff Bezos of Amazon…

The award is only for the first crewed landing, and SpaceX must first perform an uncrewed landing. “NASA is requiring a test flight to fully check out all systems with a landing on the lunar surface prior to our formal demonstration mission,” Ms. Watson-Morgan said.

NASA officials said Blue Origin, Dynetics and other companies would be able to bid for future moon landing missions.

But it appears that Jeff Bezos isn’t content to wait for a chance to compete for a subsequent mission. Today Blue Origin published an offer to NASA saying it would be willing to put up to $2 billion dollars into developing a lunar lander just to get back into the game.

In April (prior to your confirmation as NASA administrator), only one HLS bidder, SpaceX, was offered the opportunity to revise their price and funding profile, leading to their selection. Blue Origin was not offered the same opportunity. That was a mistake, it was unusual, and it was a missed opportunity. But it is not too late to remedy. We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and solve its budgetary constraints and put the Artemis Program back on a more competitive, credible, and sustainable path. Our Appendix H HLS contract is still open and can be amended.

With that in mind and on behalf of the National Team, we formally offer the following for your consideration:

  • Blue Origin will bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years up to $2B to get the program back on track right now. 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.
  • Blue Origin will, at its own cost, contribute the development and launch of a pathfinder mission to low-Earth orbit of the lunar descent element to further retire development and schedule risks. This pathfinder mission is offered in addition to the baseline plan of performing a precursor uncrewed landing mission prior to risking any astronauts to the Moon. This contribution to the program is above and beyond the over $1B of corporate contribution cited in our Option A proposal that funds items such as our privately developed BE-7 lunar lander engine and indefinite storage of liquid hydrogen in space. All of these contributions are in addition to the $2B waiver of payments referenced above.
  • Finally, Blue Origin will accept a firm, fixed-priced contract for this work, cover any system development cost overruns, and shield NASA from partner cost escalation concerns.

That’s one hell of an offer. NASA is paying Space X $2.9 billon for this mission and Blue Origin is basically saying it will do the same thing mostly on its own dime. The Washington Post reports NASA did initially plan to have two companies compete but had to settle for one because that was all it cold afford.

The open offer from Bezos marks a significant departure from the normal pace of government procurement, which usually happens behind closed doors through a scripted, bureaucratic process. It is rare for offers and counteroffers to spill into the public domain…

The “human landing system” was initially supposed to involve two manufacturers, something that would let the government benefit from redundancy across systems and also give it leverage in any future negotiations. But the agency said it did not have enough room in its budget to issue more than one contract. The $2.9 billion contract given to SpaceX fit within the agency’s budget only because SpaceX agreed to modify its payment schedule, according to a NASA document obtained by The Post.

Blue Origin already has formally challenged the award to Space X.

There’s no response to this offer from NASA thus far. I just checked Elon Musk’s Twitter feed and he hasn’t said anything about it yet either. But it seems the battle between Musk and Bezos may not be over yet. I’ll update this story if there are any developments this evening.


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