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NASA opted against Bezos’ Blue Origin Lunar Lander in favor of his rival Elon Musk’s SpaceX model earlier this year. Now Bezos is offering them an attractive last minute discount that could prove to be as lucrative as it is tempting. With a saving of at least $2 billion for the space agency on the table, the escalation could give Bezos a second stab at the contract.

The information of Bezos’ determination in securing his craft gets another look-in, was disclosed in an open letter published on Blue Origins’ site addressing NASA administrator Bill Nelson. The letter divulges that Billionaire Bezos is willing to forget the first two years of contract payments if NASA adds his company’s Blue Moon lunar lander to a key phase of the agency’s Human Landing System program. More specifically, the project that will be responsible for taking the next set of astronauts to the moon. Man hasn’t landed on the lunar surface for decades, the contract that <usk currently has ahold of would ferry the first humans to the moon in almost half a century. But, Bezos clearly wants in on the action. 

The two years worth of contract deduction that he is prepared to offer equates to at least $2 billion which he is happy to eagerly waive on a permanent basis to get what he wants. In addition, Blue Origin would self-fund its own low-orbit test launch, saving hundreds of millions more. “I believe this mission is important,” Bezos said. “I am honored to offer these contributions and am grateful to be in a financial position to be able to do so.”

Bezos has been calculated with his timing to, as the Government Accountability Office (essentially a watchdog service) is due to rule on a Blue Origin protest of NASA’s award to SpaceX. Bezos’ company filed earlier in the spring but the hearing is about to commence. “All NASA needs to do is take advantage of this offer and amend” the contract, Bezos said. A NASA spokesperson said the agency was aware of Bezos’ letter but declined to comment further “in order to maintain the integrity of the ongoing procurement process and GAO’s adjudication of this matter.”

However, NASA’s former deputy administrator Lori Garver says that amending the current contract isn’t as simple as you might imagine. Garver oversaw NASA’s Commercial Crew Program from the very beginning and doesn’t think Bezos’ significant offer should be overlooked. That said, she also insinuated that things might not pan out the way that Blue Origin has planned. “I see this as a positive sign overall, but it should not impact the current awards or strategy,” she said.

NASA announced back in April that it had elected Musk’s SpaceX’s Starship system to transport the first US crew of humans to the Moon by 2024. SpaceX had won the contract against Blue Origin and Dynetics. There are still other moon opportunities that each of the losing companies are still in the running for but NASA claims it only has limited funds from Congress. This means they could only pick one contractor and their choice was SpaceX.

Because NASA has already decided to award SpaceX a lone contract any changes could mean that legal problems will arise. Eventually bringing on more competing contractors, Garver says, “was always the plan, and it is good to know we will now have one putting their own skin in the game too.” But with the legalities of changing a contract last-minute being on the line she thinks it’s unlikely that NASA will change its mind in regards to the current award. “NASA can’t just ‘take offers’ because funding is offered. There’s absolutely nothing to stop Blue from moving forward with their own money to get in a better position to win something in the next round,” Garver says.

NASA has set itself a Moonshot deadline of 2024 and they sorely require extra Artemis Funding. Bezos, in an attempt to take advantage of this explained in his letter that his $2 billion offer would help to “bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall”. The extra cash that Bezos’ latest offer could save them would undoubtedly ensure that the program stayed on track. SpaceX’s $3 billion NASA contract has been halted by Blue Origin’s protest so that the GAO can adjudicate the facts. The deadline for the ruling is August 2nd, if they rule in favor of Blue Origin then NASA may have to restart the award program all together. The space agency would then have to rethink its decision on sole contraction. However, as Joey Roulette rightly said when writing for The Verge, it could also go against Blue Origin leaving NASA to resume current plans.

Jeff Bezos’ proposed $2 billion discount on Blue Origin’s lunar lander for NASA
Jeff Bezos’ proposed $2 billion discount on Blue Origin’s lunar lander for NASA comes just after he launched to the edge of space on its space tourism rocket. Image credit: theverge.com

Blue Origin has been strategic in its tactics. Shortly after filing its protest, they tried to coerce NASA to issue a “corrective action” on its HLS decision before the GAO rules. CEO Bob Smith spoke with the senator in the Capitol, back in May, and Blue Origin lobbyists had a little extra time to push lucrative legislation in NASA’s direction, thanks to the lengthy GAO protest process. Lobbying that NASA could have $10 billion more to sink into its HLS program, funding any number of current projects, including the company’s lunar lander. But despite the deliberate tactics employed, Blue Origin still might not get what they are after. It is important to point out that generally speaking GAO protests are seldom successful, add to that the amendment passed in Senate for debate in the House has had a lot of criticism and things don’t look great. With some, going as far as to name  it a “Bezos Bailout”.

With respect, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see Bezos $2 billion discount offer as somewhat desperate. Sure it presents an incentive for NASA to reconsider Blue Origin’s Blue Moon proposal but that doesn’t mean much. Bezos is no stranger to extravagant offers. After he revealed Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander in Washington, DC, back in 2019 Bezos met with Jim Bridenstine, who was the NASA administrator at the time. According to sources who were present at the meeting, the Billionaire offered to pay 30 percent of the costs involved in a demonstration mission of Blue Origin’s lunar lander capabilities. An amount that would supposedly total around the 200 million dollar mark.

The Monday letter from Bezos also promises to “shield NASA from partner cost escalation concerns.”This again is a significant consideration as since Blue Origin did its first reveal in DC, the company has assembled a large “National Team” of partners. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are both under the partnership. Northrop is taking care of the transfer element portion that the Lunar Lander needs. The transfer element is a key component in detaching the system from a module whilst in orbit so that it can descend to the lunar surface. Lockheed will be responsible for flight training the crew. They are also going to build Blue Moon’s Ascent Element portion, which as the name implies, is the piece of kit that will allow the team to launch from the Moon for return. Well, to a nearby space station orbiting the Moon, named Gateway. Blue Origin is working on the portion of the craft that puts the astronauts on the Moon itself.

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