Blue Origin CEO and recent addition to the ranks of ‘astronaut’, Jeff Bezos, has offered to restore competition to NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) programme in an open letter to the NASA Administrator. In return for an HLS contract, Bezos has offered to cover the first US$2 billion of costs of developing a lunar lander from his own pocket, as well as conducting a demonstration mission. The letter was posted on 26 July as a blog on Blue Origin’s website – read here.
This example of a ‘NewSpace way of doing business’ stems from NASA’s announcement in April that it was awarding a sole HLS contract to SpaceX for budgetary reasons. SpaceX bid US$2.9 billion for the contract, which trumped the US$5.99 billion from the Blue Origin-led ‘National Team’ and the seemingly exorbitant US$9 billion bid by Dynetics. Bezos tackled the single-source agreement head-on in his letter: “That decision broke the mold of NASA’s successful commercial space programs by putting an end to meaningful competition for years to come.”
He also pointed out that only SpaceX was offered the opportunity to revise its price and funding profile, leading to its selection. “Blue Origin was not offered the same opportunity”, he wrote. “That was a mistake, it was unusual, and it was a missed opportunity. But it is not too late to remedy”.
Following the original decision, Blue Origin and Dynetics filed protests with the US Government Accountability Office, which has until 4 August to respond. The Bezos letter ups the ante on the issue. It will be interesting to see whether the GAO and NASA, now with a new Administrator, decide that a return to a competitive tender is in their long-term budgetary interests.