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Jeff Bezos offers NASA $2bn in exchange for lunar mission contract

NASA in April awarded SpaceX with a sole $2.89bn contract to build the next crewed lunar lander under its Human Landing Systems programme.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has offered to cover up to $2bn in costs if NASA will award his company a second Human Landing System (HLS) contract.

In a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Bezos said the company would waive up to $2bn in payments in the first years of a new award, as well as pay for a demonstration mission, should NASA give the company an HLS award like the one SpaceX received in April to develop and demonstrate a crewed lunar lander.

NASA in April awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX with a sole $2.89bn contract to build the next crewed lunar lander under its Human Landing Systems programme. Before selecting the winner of the contest, NASA gave 10-month study contracts to SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics to begin work on lunar landers.

“We stand ready to help NASA moderate its technical risks and solve its budgetary constraints and put the Artemis Program back on a more competitive, credible, and sustainable path,” Bezos wrote in the letter.

In his proposal, Bezos said that Blue Origin will waive any payments both in the current fiscal year as well as the next two, up to $2bn. “This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments,” he wrote. “This offer provides time for government appropriation actions to catch up.”

Blue Origin would also carry out at its own expense “a pathfinder mission to the low-Earth orbit of the lunar descent element to further retire development and schedule risks.” That would be in addition to an uncrewed lunar landing demonstration that the company says was part of its “baseline plan” for developing the lunar lander system.

Bezos added that Blue Origin would accept a firm-fixed-price contract for the work, something that NASA had already required for HLS.

He added: “Our approach is designed to be sustainable for repeated lunar missions and, above all, to keep our astronauts safe. We created a 21st-century lunar landing system inspired by the well-characterized Apollo architecture — an architecture with many benefits. One of its important benefits is that it prioritises safety. As NASA recognised, the National Team’s design offers a comprehensive approach to aborts and contingencies [that] places a priority on crew safety throughout all mission phases.” 

Bezos’ offer came six days after he flew alongside three crewmates to the edge of space aboard Blue Origin’s rocket-and-capsule New Shepard, a milestone for the company’s bid to become a major player in an emerging space tourism market.