NSEric M. Johnson
Seattle, July 26 (Reuters) – Billionaire Jeff Bezos, who began his journey into space, on Monday offered to cover up to $2 billion in NASA costs if the US space agency awarded his company Blue Origin a contract to build a spacecraft designed to return astronauts to the moon.
NASA in April awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build a spacecraft to billionaire entrepreneur rival SpaceX Elon Musk to bring astronauts to the lunar surface early in 2024, rejecting bids from Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics. Blue Origin has partnered with Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N, Northrop Grumman Corporation NOC.N The Draper’s bid.
The space agency cited its own lack of funding, SpaceX’s proven track record for orbital missions and other factors in a contract decision that senior NASA official Kathy Lueders called “what the best value to the government.”
In a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Bezos said Blue Origin will waive payments in the government’s current fiscal year and the following year thereafter up to $2 billion, and pay for an orbital mission to examine its technology. In return, Blue Origin will accept a fixed-price contract, covering any system development cost overruns, Bezos said.
“NASA has deviated from its original dual-source acquisition strategy due to anticipated near-term budget issues, and this bid removes that hurdle,” Bezos wrote.
“Without competition, NASA’s short- and long-term lunar ambitions will be delayed, ultimately costing more and not serving the national interest,” Bezos added.
A NASA spokesperson said the agency was aware of Bezos’ message but declined to comment further, citing a protest by Blue Origin to the US Government Accountability Office that accused the agency of giving SpaceX an unfair advantage by allowing it to review its prices.
The GAO decision is expected in early August, although industry sources said Blue Origin sees the possibility of a reversal as unlikely.
A SpaceX spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Before selecting SpaceX, NASA solicited proposals for a spacecraft that would carry astronauts to the lunar surface under the Artemis program to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972. The Blue Origin lunar probe is called the “Blue Moon.” Bezos and Musk are the world’s richest and third-richest people, respectively, according to Forbes magazine.
Bezos’ presentation came six days after he and three of his colleagues traveled to the edge of space aboard a Blue Origin rocket and capsule, a milestone in the company’s bid to become a major player in the emerging space tourism market.
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(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Will Dunham and Matthew Lewis)
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