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Bezos offers to knock $2bn off his bill to NASA to stay in the running for Moon contract

It's not a bribe when it's a payment waiver

Blue Origins supremo Jeff Bezos has offered NASA a $2bn discount to keep his dream alive of transporting the next American man and first woman to the Moon's surface.

Earlier this year, the contract for the Human Landing System (HLS), the craft that will put a crew on the Moon as part of NASA’s lunar Artemis program, was solely awarded to SpaceX. Blue Origin and Dynetics complained to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) that this was unfair: in their mind, NASA was reneging on a promise to keep the process of selecting a lander competitive by just defaulting to SpaceX.

NASA later retracted its decision to side just with Elon Musk's SpaceX. Blue Origin essentially wants to stay in the race to produce a lander for the Moon mission, and has made a bunch of offers to NASA to make that happen.

"Instead of investing in two competing lunar landers as originally intended, the agency chose to confer a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar head start to SpaceX," Bezos griped in an open letter to the American space agency’s administrator Bill Nelson. "That decision broke the mold of NASA’s successful commercial space programs by putting an end to meaningful competition for years to come."

“Instead of this single source approach, NASA should embrace its original strategy of competition,” the Amazon tycoon, who suddenly seems to have a keen interest in fair competition, continued.

“Competition will prevent any single source from having insurmountable leverage over NASA. 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. Without competition, NASA’s short-term and long-term lunar ambitions will be delayed, will ultimately cost more, and won’t serve the national interest."

Officials at the GAO doubt NASA will be able to send astronauts to the Moon by its target of 2024. Repeated delays and increasing costs are setting the American space agency back. To keep NASA's Artemis program on track, Bezos offered to waive up to $2bn in costs incurred by Blue Origin in the Artemis program over the current and next two fiscal years. In addition, he promised Blue Origin would fund its own pathfinder mission to build a vehicle capable of an uncrewed landing on the surface of the Moon.

In return, the company “will accept a firm, fixed-priced contract for this work, cover any system development cost overruns, and shield NASA from partner cost escalation concerns.”

A NASA spokesperson told The Register:

NASA is aware of Blue Origin’s open letter addressed to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson regarding the HLS selection that the agency announced in April. As a result of ongoing litigation related to HLS protests filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), NASA will not provide comment in response to the letter in order to maintain the integrity of the ongoing procurement process and GAO’s adjudication of this matter. NASA’s source selection statement for the award is publicly available here.

The private space industry is heating up. First, Richard Branson flew to the edge of space using two launch vehicles on July 12. Next, Bezos went up to the Kármán line in Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Although commercial space tourism may be lucrative, they’re nowhere near as well-paid as major proper astronaut contracts offered by NASA. Getting access to the agency’s internal data and processes also gives the chosen aerospace companies an advantage over their competitors. ®

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