On Wednesday, the space agency announced it was planning to reopen the competition for its Artemis program to a second company. Shortly after the announcement, Jeff Bezos’ space company announced it would place a bid for the multibillion-dollar contract for a second time.
“Blue Origin is ready to compete and remains deeply committed to the success of Artemis,” a Blue Origin spokesperson told Insider. “We will continue to work with NASA to achieve the United States’ goal to return to the Moon as soon as possible.”
CNBC’s Michael Sheetz was the first to report Blue Origin’s announcement. NASA initially began the program in 2019 and said it was looking to hire two companies to provide spacecrafts that could transport astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon. The agency backtracked on the offer in April, saying a lack of funding had limited NASA to selecting one company a decision that Blue Origin took to court.
Blue Origin attempted to get NASA to withdraw its decision and took the issue to the Government Accountability Office. When that failed, Jeff Bezos’ space venture sued NASA in federal court in August, dubbing the agency’s decision to choose SpaceX as the sole winner of the lunar lander contract “unfair” and an example of patronage. Blue Origin accused NASA of eliminating the element of competition on the project by selecting a single company instead of two companies to work side-by-side. The lawsuit was dismissed in November.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson did not specify how much the program would cost as the budget is pending the release of President Joe Biden’s proposal for the 2023 fiscal year next week.
“I promised competition. So here it is,” Nelson said during a press conference on Tuesday. “We think, and so does the Congress, that competition leads to better, more reliable outcomes. It benefits everybody. It benefits NASA. It benefits the American people,” he added.
The second contract will require the spacecraft to be able to carry more cargo and be able to handle longer stays on the moon’s surface, according to NASA’s press release.
Blue Origin could be a top contender for the contract. Last year, Bezos and Musk’s companies vied for the top spot in the competition. The Amazon founder even offered to subsidize Blue Origin’s cost with $2 billion of his own money in order to compete with SpaceX’s bid, but but the contract was still more expensive than Musk’s, which was $2.9 billion less than half the price of all the other space companies.
“Blue Origin is thrilled that NASA is creating competition by procuring a second human lunar landing system,” the company’s spokesperson said in a statement. “By doing so, NASA will establish the critical redundancy and robustness needed for establishing permanent US lunar presence.”
NASA officials said the second contract would be determined by early next year and they plan to fly a new lunar lander spacecraft within the next five years. SpaceX’s contract with NASA requires the venture to fly a test of its Starship spaceship to the moon and eventually land astronauts on the moon using the spacecraft. Musk has said SpaceX is aiming to launch its first orbital flight of the Starship in the next few months.