The moon lander program from NASA seems to be one of the hottest topics in the space industry as of now, with multiple companies fighting over the opportunity to be the space agency’s partner.
While NASA believed that things were ready to go following the approval of SpaceX, it appears that Blue Origin could be getting in on the mission as well.
Innovation Act Gets Traction
Earlier this month, the United States Senate passed a major funding bill, providing billions of dollars to scientific research and product development - including those for space missions. The bill tagged the United States Innovation and Competition Act would allocate $250 billion to American technical and scientific research. Of those funds, $10 billion would go to the development of private crewed moon landers that Nasa would use.
The Innovation Act was primarily designed to improve American industrial and scientific competitiveness, especially in a world where countries like China have become more technologically independent. It passed the Senate floor with a vote tally of 68-32.
However, one important amendment to the bill - formerly called the Endless Frontiers Act - is the allocation of $10 billion for NASA’s Artemis program. As industry experts know, Artemis looks to build a sustainable human presence on or around the moon by the end of the decade.
This new funding haul allows NASA to be much freer in its product design and development. Recall that the agency already allotted $2.9 billion to SpaceX to develop a human lander system. The money was especially for NASA to finish building its Starship vehicle and for NASA to use it as a moon lander.
SpaceX beat two teams to the punch - Blue Origin and Dynetics. Following the company’s win, both competitors filed complaints with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). In their complaints, Blue Origin and Dynetics claimed that NASA had not made them aware of its limited budget. Thus, the parameters of the deal favored SpaceX more than it did them.
Back in May, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) backyard the Innovation Act and its amendments, leading to the successful vote on the Senate floor. The Innovation Act will now go to the House of Representatives, and success there will allow NASA to pick a second contractor on the moon lander project.
Although Blue Origin isn’t named as the company that will win the contract, there is little doubt that it would be anyone else. NASA awarded SpaceX the moon lander contract because the space company provided a cheaper bid to others. Blue Origin's bid was the second cheapest, meaning that Dynetics won’t have any way of convincing NASA to go with it - especially now that we know that money is NASA’s biggest motivation.
Bill Gets Pushback
While the Senate voted in favor of the Innovation Act, not everyone was happy. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) submitted a counter-proposal, eliminating the funds - which he called the “Bezos Bailout.”
For now, the Accountability Office has until August 4 to decide whether the SpaceX contract was valid and should be followed. Until then, NASA has put a hold on the contract.
Blue Origin Breaking Bounds
While the world continues to wait for how the Innovation Act goes, Blue Origin is preparing for its flight that will carry company founder Jeff Bezos into space.
Bezos announced that he would go into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket last month. A few weeks ago, reports confirmed that a ticket for the rocket ride had sold for $28 million. The unnamed auction winner would accompany Bezos with his brother, Mark, and another unnamed passenger.
Blue Origin had started the bidding process for the last seat at $4.8 million. In a matter of minutes, the ticket prices had jacked up to $28 million.
This flight will be the first time that Blue Origin will be sending a crewed mission to space. The company has quite a lot of projects in the pipeline, and crewed missions will be a critical part of that. Success with this will mean that Blue Origin is set for much bigger moves overall, and the company itself will also have a lot on its plate.
Where Does This Lead?
The Innovation Act is still yet to pass at the House. If it does, NASA will get enough money to push forward with Artemis, and onboard one more partner - which everyone thinks will be Blue Origin. The space agency will also probably have more money to give to SpaceX, its primary partner.
So, the best thing for everyone would be for the Innovation Act to pass. However, with the enormity of the funds proposed, there is a significant chance that it won’t pass the House without cuts - if it will pass at all.