Jeff Bezos offered to cover $2 billion (£1.4 billion) of Nasa’s costs in order to be renegotiated for a key contract to build a lunar landing vehicle.
In April, the space agency awarded a $2.9 billion contract to Elon Musk, rejecting an offer from Bezos’ company Blue Origin.
The contract calls for a landing system that would bring astronauts to the surface of the moon as early as 2024.
Due to a lack of funding, Nasa was only able to conclude a contract with one company and not two, as expected.
The space agency received only $850 million of the $3.3 billion it had requested from Congress to build the lunar vehicle.
In a letter to Nasa administrator Bill Nelson published Monday, Mr. Bezos wrote, “Blue Origin will make up the HLS [Human Landing System] budget shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years of up to $2 billion to get the program back on track right now.
“This proposal is not a deferral, but a direct and permanent waiver of those payments.”
At the time of the award, Nasa’s head of human exploration, Kathy Lueders, acknowledged that the space agency’s current budget does not allow it to choose two companies.
Nasa also cited Elon Musk‘s proven experience orbiting SpaceX as a factor in the decision. Cost is also believed to have played a role: SpaceX’s proposal was the lowest priced.
The decision means SpaceX’s cylindrical Starship will carry astronauts on Nasa’s first mission to the lunar surface since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Alabama-based defense contractor Dynetics also bid for the contract.
Bezos partnered with aerospace giants Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper in an effort to join this crucial phase of Nasa’s human landing system program.
Their project was called the Blue Moon lander and bore a passing resemblance to the larger version of the lunar module (LM) that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface in 1969.
In his letter, Bezos emphasized Blue Moon’s proven legacy: “We created a 21st-century lunar landing system inspired by the well-described Apollo architecture, an architecture with many advantages. One of its important advantages is the priority of safety.”
Musk’s Starship pushed the boundaries of spaceship design by taking a radical approach to landing and using innovative methane-fueled engines.
Bezos also used his letter to emphasize that Blue Origin uses hydrogen fuel, which coincides with Nasa’s long-term goals of fueling spacecraft with water ice mined from the moon. The water can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen fuel for rocket engines.
In Nasa’s April selection statement, SpaceX was rated “acceptable” from a technical standpoint and rated “excellent” from a management standpoint. Blue Origin’s bid was also rated “acceptable” from a technical standpoint, but its management rating was deemed “very good” by the space agency.
After losing to SpaceX, Blue Origin filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) claiming that Nasa unfairly “moved the gate at the last minute” in awarding the contract to SpaceX.
This protest, as well as that of Dynetics, is awaiting a decision, although some in the space community consider the chances of overturning the decision unlikely.