Jeff Bezos wants to donate up to $2 billion to NASA in order to reignite the space race between his Blue Origin rocket company and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
In an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Monday, the world’s richest man offered to cover billions of dollars in the US space agency’s costs. Bezos hopes that by doing so, Blue Origin will be reconsidered for a contract to build the vehicle that will carry the next astronauts to the moon.
His unusual proposal comes just months after NASA chose SpaceX over Blue Origin to build the vehicle for $2.9 billion.
The agency had hoped to have at least two private-sector companies compete to build the spacecraft that will ferry astronauts to the lunar surface for the Artemis moon landing missions — a project known as the Human Landing System — but that plan was scrapped (HLS). However, in April, NASA made the unexpected announcement that it would proceed with SpaceX as the project’s sole contractor, citing cost as the primary reason.
Blue Origin openly expressed its displeasure with the decision. Now, Bezos, who just returned from a space mission last week, wants to make sure money doesn’t get in the way.
“Blue Origin will bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years up to $2 billion to get the program back on track right now,” he wrote.
“This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments. This offer provides time for government appropriation actions to catch up.”
Bezos emphasized the importance of healthy competition for NASA as it works toward a return to the moon, implying that the government would be sorry if it did not do so.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
NASA’s Artemis program aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon’s south pole in 2024. The final Apollo mission, Apollo 17, in 1972, was the last time humans explored the lunar surface.
Blue Origin proposed working as a “National Team” for the HLS program with frequent government contractors such as Northrop Grumman (NOC) and Lockheed Martin (LMT) to design a lunar lander specifically to service the space station, called Gateway, that NASA plans to put in orbit around the moon as part of its bid for the contract. Dynetics of Alabama, which has also objected to NASA’s decision to award the contract to SpaceX, submitted a similar proposal.
SpaceX, on the other hand, proposed using its Starship, a massive spaceship and rocket system currently under development in South Texas. Although the primary goal of SpaceX’s Starship is to transport humans to Mars, the company has proposed that a modified version be used to support NASA’s Artemis moon program.