Jeff Bezos is more than just the world’s richest man. The former Amazon chief executive is also incredibly passionate about space travel and tourism. Using his incredible wealth and connections, Bezos has made significant strides with his company, Blue Origin.
However, the journey hasn’t been all too smooth for Bezos and Blue Origin. Primarily, the billionaire’s company has been struggling to get on NASA’s lunar lander system program. After rounds of defeat, however, Bezos remains defiant.
The GAO Finally Says No to Blue Origin
Late last month, the United States Office for Government Accountability (GAO) published its full statement, confirming that NASA is justified in giving Elon Musk’s SpaceX its lunar lander system contract. The statement explained that SpaceX offers NASA the best option when it comes to technical and financial efficiency.
In addition, the statement revealed that NASA is well within its rights to seek just one company to partner with on the lander project - although the agency had initially signaled interest in working with more than one partner. NASA has been facing significant budget cuts for a while, and giving the lander contract to SpaceX allows the agency to focus on financial optimization.
Despite the statement, Blue Origin wasn’t pleased. The company published its rebuttal, reiterating its stance that SpaceX had gotten preferential treatment from NASA.
A Months-Long Dispute Comes to an End
For a background to the story, SpaceX got the initial contract for the lunar lander system earlier this year. Blue Origin and Dynetics Technologies had also placed bids, but both companies had placed more expensive bids - primarily because they had partnered with other companies, respectively.
When NASA eventually picked SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics filed a complaint with the GAO. Primarily, they had issues as they believed that SpaceX had been given a leg up because of NASA’s financial situation. They pointed out that NASA didn’t make its budget constraint known to them, and the agency even allowed SpaceX to amend its bid.
But, the GAO struck down their objection this month, explaining that NASA had not acted in bad faith against the two companies. Despite all of this, Blue Origin isn’t giving up hope on this matter. The company is clearly fine with pushing for space on NASA’s contract, even going as far as attacking SpaceX head-on.
The Competitor in Bezos Comes Out
Things have gotten so bad that Bezos has offered fresh funds to NASA in exchange for his presence on the moon lander contract. Fresh off his trip to space almost a month ago, Bezos personally offered to cover the cost of Blue Origin’s involvement in the moon lander contract.
In an open letter, Bezos told NASA Administrator Bill Nelson that he was prepared to offer $2 billion to cover Blue Origin’s project costs. He explained that the offer was a permanent waiver of the company’s payments and that it would give enough time for government appropriation efforts to catch up.
“Instead of this single source approach, NASA should embrace its original strategy of competition. 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,” Bezos wrote in the letter.
Bezos also added that the offer shows Blue Origin’s commitment to going back to the moon and working with all available stakeholders to get there. The company believes that competition is the best way to move forward at this point, especially with more players entering into the private space industry.
If NASA accepts the proposal, Blue Origin will waive fees up to $2 billion permanently for the next two government fiscal years. The company will also bear the cost for an additional low-Earth orbit mission to cater to all safety concerns while also covering any cost overruns.
Bezos appears to have been inspired by his trip to space. The billionaire and several others - including his brother - blasted off to space for a few minutes in an adventure that Bezos called the “best day” of his life.
Several sources have tried to understand why the lunar lander contract means so much to Bezos and Blue Origin. The company is one of the most valuable in the private aerospace industry, and Bezos’ flight to space a few weeks ago has shown that it is perfectly capable of competing. If NASA doesn’t allow Blue Origin to play on the lunar lander system, the company should be able to get another contract at some point that can suffice.
Many have said that this attempt will most likely not go anywhere, but there’s truly no saying. Bezos is showing his competitive side here, and the truth is that NASA will benefit from having more than one company on the lunar lander project. The agency might be willing to listen now that Blue Origin is offering to foot the project’s bill - and by as much as $2 billion, no less.