Jeff Bezos offered to pay $2 billion (more than R$10.3 billion) of costs for NASA, the US space agency, in exchange for participating in the contract to build a moon landing vehicle.
In April, NASA awarded the $2.9 billion contract to Elon Musk, rejecting Bezos’ company Blue Origin’s original offer. The two billionaire entrepreneurs competed to build the landing system that will carry astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024.
The American space agency could only give the contract to one company, not two, because it didn’t have enough budget. NASA received just $850 million of the $3.3 billion it asked the US Congress to build the moon landing platform.
In a letter to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, released on Monday (26), Bezos wrote: “Blue Origin will complete the missing Human Landing System (HLS) budget by suspending all receipts in the the government’s current fiscal year and the next, making a total of $2 billion, to ensure the program gets back on track.”
“This offer is not a postponement (of receiving the $2 billion of the contract), but rather a permanent suspension of these payments.” Bezos flew into space with his brother Mark last week on the first tourist spaceflight of his New Shepard aircraft.
At the time of the bid for the contract, Kathy Lueders, one of NASA’s heads, admitted that the space agency did not have enough funds to select two companies to participate in the project.
NASA also cited Elon Musk’s SpaceX company’s repertoire of orbital missions as a factor in selecting it to build the moon landing system. Cost also played a part in the decision: SpaceX offered to do the work for a fee smaller than Blue Origin.
As a result, the cylindrical Starship vehicle would carry NASA astronauts for the first mission to the moon’s surface since Apollo 17 in 1972. Alabama’s defense firm Dynetics was also competing for the contract.
Bezos had partnered with aerospace giants Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper at the event to participate in this crucial phase of NASA’s Human Landing System.
Their vehicle was called the Blue Moon, and it looks like a sturdier version of the Lunar Module, which carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon’s surface in 1969.
In his letter, Bezos emphasizes Blue Moon’s trusted heritage: “We created a 21st century lunar landing system inspired by the Apollo architecture — an architecture with many benefits. One of the most important of these is safety.”
Elon Musk’s Starship dares to design space aircraft, using a radical strategy for landing and incorporating innovative methane gas engines. Bezos also used his letter to emphasize Blue Origin’s use of hydrogen fuel, which aligns with NASA’s long-standing interests in refueling space aircraft with frozen water taken from the Moon.
Water can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to power rocket engines.
In the company’s selection communiqué in April, SpaceX received an “acceptable” rating on the technical side and “excellent” in administration. Blue Origin also received an “acceptable” rating for its technical competence, but the rating for administration was “very good”, therefore lower than SpaceX.
After losing to Elon Musk’s company, Blue Origin filed a complaint with the US Government Accounting Office, alleging that NASA wrongfully “modified the goalposts at the last minute” in order to secure the contract to SpaceX.
The appeal, along with one presented by Dynetics, is still awaiting evaluation, but part of the space community believes the chance of a reversal of the decision is unlikely.