Bezos pens open letter to NASA about Artemis lander contract
Shortly after journeying to the edge of space, Jeff Bezos has stepped in to resolve his company Blue Origin's dispute with NASA. Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics had opposed NASA's decision to award the Artemis lunar lander contract to Elon Musk-led SpaceX. In an open letter to NASA, Bezos offered to waive payments worth $2 billion in exchange for securing a lander contract.
Earlier this year, NASA awarded SpaceX the $2.9 billion contract for building a lunar lander for the Artemis mission. The historic Trump-era mission would be the first to send a person of color and a woman to the Moon. At the time, Blue Origin had lost the bid for the contract despite partnering with established (but corrupt) aerospace firms Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
Following NASA's announcement, Blue Origin and Dynetics objected which led to a stay on the contract. In his open letter addressed to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, Bezos elaborated upon Blue Origin's commitment to "advance America's future in space." Bezos said that Blue Origin is willing to waive up to $2 billion in payments due from NASA for the current and subsequent fiscal years.
In exchange, Bezos wanted NASA to award Blue Origin a fixed-price contract for the Artemis lander. Additionally, Bezos made two tall claims in the letter to the agency. He said that Blue Origin is willing to fund its own pathfinder mission to a low-Earth orbit (LEO). He also offered that his space exploration company would cover any cost overruns on the Artemis contract.
However, the entire letter wasn't unselfish. The theme remained about how Blue Origin feels unfairly excluded from the contract. Bezos emphasized that historically, NASA would award the contract to two entities so it had a contingency plan. His letter said, "Instead of investing in two competing lunar landers as originally intended, the Agency chose to confer a multi-year, multi-billion dollar head start to SpaceX".
Bezos said, "NASA veered from its original dual-source acquisition strategy due to perceived near-term budgetary issues, and this offer (the $2 billion waiver and offer to cover mission cost overruns) removes that obstacle." Speaking about it, Bezos continued, "This offer provides time for the government appropriation actions to catch up." A NASA spokesperson confirmed the agency is aware of the letter.
Given that Blue Origin's plea is being reviewed by the US Government Accountability Office, it isn't clear how NASA will respond to the open letter penned by Bezos. For now, the Artemis mission's Human Landing System project can't proceed. Interestingly, Amazon's previous run-in with the government's Department of Defense challenged Microsoft's $10 billion cloud infrastructure contract. After a two-year battle, the project was canceled.