Jeff Bezos wants to spot NASA up to $2 billion in a bid to reignite the battle for space between his rocket company Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX.
The world's richest man appealed to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in an open letter Monday, offering to cover billions of dollars in the US space agency's costs. In doing so, Bezos hopes Blue Origin can be reconsidered for a contract to build the vehicle that will land the next astronauts on the moon.
His unusual proposal comes a few months after NASA chose SpaceX over Blue Origin for a $2.9 billion contract to build the vehicle.
The agency originally intended to have at least two private-sector companies compete to build the spacecraft that will ferry astronauts to the lunar surface for the Artemis moon landing missions — a project called the Human Landing System (HLS). But in April, NASA made the surprise announcement that it would move forward with SpaceX as the sole contractor for the project, citing costs as a primary reason.
Blue Origin openly pushed back against the decision. Now Bezos — fresh from his space flight last week — wants to make sure money does not come in the way.
"Blue Origin will bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years up to $2 billion to get the program back on track right now," he wrote.
"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. "
Bezos repeatedly emphasized the need for NASA to promote healthy competition as the agency works toward its return to the moon, suggesting that the government would regret not doing so.
"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," he 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."
NASA expects to land the first woman and the next man on moon's south pole in 2024 through its Artemis program. Humans last explored the lunar surface during the final Apollo mission, Apollo 17, in 1972.
As it was vying for the contract, Blue Origin proposed working as a "National Team" for the HLS program alongside frequent government contractors such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to design a lunar lander specifically to service the space station, called Gateway, that NASA plans to put in orbit around the moon. Alabama-based Dynetics, which has also protested NASA's decision to award the contract to SpaceX, came in with a similar proposal.
SpaceX, however, proposed using its Starship, a gargantuan spaceship and rocket system that is currently in the early stages of development in South Texas. SpaceX's primary goal for Starship is to take humans to Mars, but the company proposed using a modified version to service NASA's Artemis moon program.
Blue Origin, SpaceX and NASA did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
-- Jackie Wattles contributed to this report.
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