Bezos offers billions in incentives for NASA's lunar lander contract
Jeff Bezos, the billionaire and founder of Blue Origin, offers to cut the cost of developing a lunar lander by up to $ 2 billion and to self-fund a Boy Scout mission in exchange for a NASA contract.
The specific contract in question relates to the development of a lunar lander for the Human Landing System program, which aims to bring humans back to the moon for the first time since the Apollo days. NASA announced in April 2020 that Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Dynetics had been selected for the initial stage of the contract, and it was believed that competition would likely be reduced to two final lunar landing companies. As TechCrunch's Darrell Etherington notes, it's not uncommon for NASA to select two vendors, as it did when it awarded Boeing and SpaceX contracts as part of its commercial crew program.
But a year later, in a move that departed from historical practice, NASA announced that it had selected only one company for the contract: SpaceX. That Elon Musk-led company proposed a $ 2.89 billion plan for its lander - about half of Blue Origin's $ 5.99 billion proposal. Bezos is now offering to cut that price by $ 2 billion.
In a document obtained from the Washington Post explaining the reasons for selecting a single provider for the HLS contract, NASA admits that "the current fiscal year budget did not support even a single award ". In response, SpaceX updated its payment schedule to "fit into NASA's current budget." It's no secret that the agency has strict budget constraints: Congress approved only $ 850 million for the HLS program in fiscal year 2021, well below the $ 3.4 billion required by NASA.
SpaceX wins NASA contract to develop a human landing system for the return to the moon
Enter Bezos' open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson addressing the budget issue directly. He writes that the proposed incentives would address "perceived short-term budget problems" with the Human Landing System Program, which led NASA to select a single company instead of two.
"Instead of investing in two competing lunar landers as originally intended, the agency has chosen to give SpaceX a multi-year lead of billions of dollars," said Bezos in the letter. "This decision broke the shape of NASA's successful commercial space programs by putting an end to significant competition for years to come."
This isn't the first time Blue Origin has publicly questioned NASA's decision to go with just one provider. The company, along with Dynetics, filed protests with the Government Accountability Office just a week after the award was announced. Blue Origin argued that the contract requirements do not allow companies to "compete meaningfully". GAO has until August 4th to decide on the protest.
Blue Origin and Dynetics aren't the only companies backing two contract awards. The Senate recently passed a bill that would, among other things, require NASA to select two companies for the HLS lander - and the additional funding for it, SpaceNews reported. Not every legislature was happy to receive the additional funding, however: Senator Bernie Sanders called it a "Bezos bailout" but ultimately failed to remove the additional funding from the bill.
"We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and resolve its budget constraints and get the Artemis program back on a more competitive, credible and sustainable path," said Bezos.
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