Blue Origin Offers NASA $2 Billion to Get Back in Race for Moon Lander Mission

The company also threw in a low-orbit pathfinder mission built at zero cost to NASA.
Ameya Paleja
Blue Origin wants to claw its way back into the space raceThomas Kelley/iStock

After stepping down from his position as the CEO at Amazon earlier this month, Jeff Bezos took a trip to outer space and is now preparing to fight it out with Elon Musk's SpaceX for a chance to build a Moon Lander. In an open letter signed by Bezos, the company has offered a $2 billion payment waiver to NASA to take out SpaceX's monopoly in the Moon Lander contract and make the program competitive, while serving NASA's long-term lunar ambitions and US national interest.

NASA aims to return human missions to the Moon by 2024. To this effect, it awarded 10-month contracts to SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics, to begin working on a lander system that NASA could pick from. As Bezos explained in his letter, Blue Origin formed a "National Team" comprising of major partners like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Gruman, Draper, and over 200 small and medium suppliers in 47 states in the US to design a sustainable and safe human landing system (HLS). The system is designed to be compatible with a range of launch vehicles thereby reducing the risk of launch failures, a feature that NASA recognized back then, the letter claims. 

Yet in April this year, NASA awarded the $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX alone, deviating from NASA's tradition of awarding contracts to two or more providers to reduce the risk of failure, delays, and cost overruns. Bezos claims that NASA's current strategy of single-sourcing to a vertically integrated company SpaceX limits NASA options for the mission while also hurting national interest. The letter is addressed to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, who assumed his office after the contract was awarded.

Blue Origin had launched a formal protest to NASA's decision back in May, leading to its eventual suspension. But now, the company is looking to thaw the situation by offering a massive cut in payments NASA would owe them if let back in. The company also assures for doing the job on a fixed-price contract while covering cost overruns and also develop and launch a low-Earth orbit pathfinder mission in support of the Moon Lander mission at no cost.

The letter twists no words to state that NASA's decision in April was due to budgetary constraints and Blue Origin is willing to overlook that 'mistake' and also provide it monetary means to rectify it in the near future. 

This offer could be Bezos' attempt to quickly resolve this issue, unlike the Department of Defense's JEDI project award that Amazon fought only to be canceled out completely two years later. 

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