The Senate just advanced the beef between SpaceX and Blue Origin


A Push From Jeff Bezos’ Space Company To Unlock $10 Billion In Moon Lander Funds Goes In The House

A controversial amendment pushed by Jeff Bezos’ space firm Blue Origin passed in the Senate on Wednesday night, close to becoming law. Inside a massive science and technology bill designed primarily to counter competition from China, the amendments would allow NASA to spend up to $10 billion on its embattled moon lander program. In addition to countering China, it also marks the latest development on Bezos’ battle path to counter competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

For Blue Origin, a $10 billion boost is a vital weapon in an enduring rivalry between the country’s two richest people — one way or another, the company hopes that some portion of the funding will help it compete with SpaceX. Can help give you a better chance. It’s just one front in a broader effort to change the outcome of NASA’s Watershed Human Landing System competition: The space agency awarded SpaceX, and only SpaceX, a $2.9 billion contract in April to launch its first two missions to the Moon by 2024. was to do. Tired of hoping to choose two companies.

NASA says it chose SpaceX because it had the best and most affordable offer, and In college SpaceX because it didn’t have enough money to choose another company. Last year, Congress granted a quarter of a request to NASA to fund two separate lunar landers. The two losing companies, Blue Origin and Dianetics, filed a protest with the nation’s top watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, putting a halt to SpaceX’s award that could run until Aug. Among dozens of counterclaims, Blue Origin says NASA unfairly gave SpaceX an opportunity to negotiate its contract that other bidders didn’t get and wrongly rejected its nearly $6 billion offer.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The stakes are high: If GAO supports Blue Origin’s arguments, it could reset the entire lunar lander competition and delay NASA’s goal of putting humans on the Moon by 2024 — a key figure in the agency’s Artemis program time limit. If the GAO rejects the company’s protest, things go as planned and SpaceX resumes — or starts over — its moon lander in the works.

But, in its two-way fight on Capitol Hill and GAO, Blue Origin might not want to make a decision on its opposition.

Lawyers and lobbyists for Bezos’ company argue that NASA can, at any time during a review of GAO’s opposition, exercise its ability to take formal “corrective action” for its HLS decision, one of the two losing bidders. One could negotiate with someone, then choose one as the second contractor who would develop its lunar lander with SpaceX — without re-opening the entire competition. If the corrective action plan addresses any of the issues raised at the Blue Origin protest, GAO’s attorneys will dismiss the protest. Such settlements are not uncommon – last year nearly half of all 2,137 bid protests were rejected because an agency took corrective action.

But it is highly unlikely that NASA would choose to abruptly reverse its HLS decision through corrective action. Formally responding to Blue Origin’s protest late last month, the agency fiercely defended its award decision in a lengthy rebuttal filed with the GAO, according to people familiar with the process. Agency employees involved in NASA’s effort worry that a reversal could set a bad precedent and are concerned that adding another company could mess up the terms of SpaceX’s current award and potentially another legal nightmare. may be born.

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Then-nominee Bill Nelson speaks at his Senate confirmation hearing before taking office as NASA administrator.
Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

One reason, however, to correct the decision, some argue, is if NASA had some assurance that it would have enough money to pay for another contractor. That’s where Blue Origin’s tremendous lobbying effort comes into play.

Senator Maria Cantwell, a senior Democrat from Blue Origin’s home state of Washington, and Roger Vicker, a Republican from Mississippi, proposed the amendment that passed the Senate last night. In its original version, this would have forced NASA to choose at least one more contractor within 30 days from the bill’s enactment and use $10 billion to fund the entire program — SpaceX’s contract and hypothetical. Second company contract – through 2026. Cantwell had been irritated by NASA’s decision to choose a company and write the language to boost commercial competition, colleagues say.

Bernie Sanders – one of Washington’s leading critics of Jeff Bezos and other billionaires – called it a “multi-billion dollar Bezos bailout” and called for the removal of Cantwell-Wicker language altogether. proposed. “I have a real problem with the $10 billion authorization that makes, among other things, the richest man in this country,” said Sanders, who voted against the bill earlier this month. “Cry me a river,” said Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) Tweet On the protest against Blue Origin. “Jeff Bezos lost out on a space contract, so now the Senate inserts a $10 billion Bezos bailout provision for his space company?”

The “Bezos bailout” discourse began when SpaceX lobbyists distributed a lobbying memo to lawmakers last month, calling the Cantwell-Wicker Amendment a “sole-source hand-out of $10 billion” that would “remain in the hands of NASA’s Artemis program”. will throw it into years of litigation.”

“This revision isn’t about competition. It’s a handout,” said the SpaceX memo, a copy of which was shared ledge and first reported by Washington Post, Shouts in all-caps. It adds: “Blue Origin has received more than $778 million from NASA, the Air Force and the Space Force since 2011, and has not produced a single rocket or spacecraft capable of reaching orbit.”

The amendment doesn’t explicitly order NASA to add another moon lander contractor to work with SpaceX, or even take on Blue Origin for that matter — $10 billion in the future. Part of could very well go to SpaceX. But the 30-day deadline was seen as a de facto mandate to do so, because creating a new development program in that thin window would be unlikely, and because Blue Origin’s lander proposal ranked second behind SpaceX. had come. After weeks of negotiations between NASA and Congress, the amendment’s 30-day deadline was extended to 60 days, and the funding year closes on 2025 instead of 2026, according to the version of the bill that passed. Accordingly, NASA closes in on a concession intended to be given. More flexibility to use $10 billion as per your original plan.

That plan includes future competitions, such as a development program that could give companies some $15 million to mature their lunar lander designs, or a larger competition for NASA to provide regular transportation to the Moon. But Blue Origin doesn’t want to wait for those programs to open. It is leading a national team of companies to create a winning moon lander proposal in 2019. That team includes Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, two publicly traded space and defense contractors who may decide to jump ship and work on their own proposals for follow-up awards, some speculate in the space industry.

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Image: Peter Park / AFP via Getty Images

Bezos’s national team, however, is still together. Draper Laboratory, the third firm in Blue Origin’s team, won a separate $49 million contract late last month to build the avionics software, partly “to support NASA’s mission’s Artemis mission not only to land on the Moon but also to land on the Moon.” but rather to make a consistent presence”. Lunar Zone,” according to a contract document. It is unclear whether the software will support SpaceX’s moon lander, Starship.

“Draper’s work under this award may include NASA’s human landing system, but we don’t know yet,” explained Draper’s vice president of civilian space, Pete Paisley. ledge, adding that Draper remains a member of the national team. “If we work on HLS under this contract it will be under the direct support of NASA.”

As for the Blue Origin-backed Cantwell Amendment, which escaped the Senate, it is unclear whether it will survive in the House. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who chairs the House committee and subcommittee that oversees NASA, has come out against NASA’s holistic approach to going to the Moon. A spokesman for Rep. Johnson declined to comment on the fate of the amendment. In an earlier statement related to NASA’s award to SpaceX, Rep. Johnson said there is still “a clear need to re-base NASA’s lunar exploration program, with no real chance of returning American astronauts to the Moon until 2024.”

No one knows when the House might vote on the amendment, and it’s not clear how much it will change the process. Other members of Congress have voiced their support behind NASA’s Moon program. NASA’s new administrator, former Senator Bill Nelson, has been barnstorming Capitol Hill with meetings and public statements, the first week since he rallied in support of his agency’s moon program.

“The US Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which includes the NASA authorization bill, is an investment in scientific research and technological innovation that will help ensure that the US continues to lead in space and put us on the path of executing multiple landings on the Moon in this.” decade,” Nelson said in a statement late Tuesday, after the Senate passed a science and technology bill that scrapped the Cantwell Amendment. “I applaud the Senate’s passage of the bill and look forward to working with the House to pass it into law.”

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