Jeff Bezos, the founder of private space company Blue Origin, has penned an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson that talks about a recent controversy involving the agency and SpaceX while offering a new proposal: it’ll cover up to $2 billion to get back into the Artemis program. As well, the company is offering to take on the burden of significant costs above the $2 billion figure.
In late April, NASA temporarily halted a lunar lander contract given to SpaceX following challenges from Blue Origin and Dynetics. Among other things, Blue Origin had criticized NASA for moving “the goalposts at the last minute,” noting that SpaceX had the last-minute opportunity to revise its bid — something Blue Origins says it wasn’t offered.
That issue is part of the core message in Bezos’s new letter to NASA‘s administrator, with the billionaire stating:
In April (prior to your confirmation as NASA administrator), only one HLS bidder, SpaceX, was offered the opportunity to revise their price and funding profile, leading to their selection. Blue Origin was not offered the same opportunity. That was a mistake, it was unusual, and it was a missed opportunity. But it is not too late to remedy.
Put simply, Bezos has offered to cover up to $2 billion in costs if NASA will grant his private space company a lunar lander contract. The letter criticizes NASA’s decision to make competitor SpaceX the only recipient of its multi-billion lunar lander contract, which was granted under the agency’s Human Landing Systems [HLS] program.
The letter goes on to state:
In the past few weeks, the shortfalls of this single source selection have been recognized, and NASA has begun to solicit new lunar lander proposals. But, unfortunately, this new approach won’t create true competition because it is rushed, it is unfunded, and it provides a multi-year head-start to the one funded, single-source supplier […] The Agency must act now to create the real competition it needs, and it should not repeat work already delivered and investments already made.
Bezos is offering to “bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall” by taking on up to $2 billion in costs over the current fiscal year, as well as the next two government fiscal years. The letter stresses that this offer isn’t to defer these payments, but is instead “an outright and permanent waiver” so that “government appropriation actions” can catch up.
In addition to footing up to $2 billion, Bezos says Blue Origin will also cover the costs for developing and launching a low-Earth orbit pathfinder mission on top of the uncrewed landing mission that would take place first. Blue Origin likewise will accept a fixed-price contract that covers its offer, including in the event there are cost overruns for the system development, as well as protecting NASA “from partner cost escalation concerns.”
“I am honored to offer these contributions and am grateful to be in a financial position to be able to do so,” Bezos tells Nelson in his letter. Should this proposal fall flat, Bezos also says that Blue Origin is “ready and willing to discuss” any “different ideas about what would best facilitate getting back to true competition.”
The letter, which was published on the Blue Origin website, comes only days after Bezos completed his trip to the edge of space. The private space company recently noted that it has already sold millions of dollars worth of tickets to those who want to take similar trips.
NASA hasn’t yet responded to the letter.