WASHINGTON – In a leaflet distributed recently on Capitol Hill, Elon Musk’s SpaceX warned that legislation currently under consideration would reward “Jeff Bezos with a $ 10 billion donation to a single source” that would tie the lunar plans of the NASA and would hand over “space leadership to China. . “
Bezos’ space company Blue Origin retaliated quickly and forcefully: “Lie.” “Lie.” “Lie,” he said of each of the allegations in the SpaceX article. And added: “What is Elon Musk afraid of … a little bit of competition?”
Duel documents are the latest point of tension in a long-running rivalry between the world’s two richest men and billionaire “space barons” who have argued for years in their quest to privatize space exploration human. Musk and Bezos fought for a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, fought for a patent on landing rockets, and argued over which of them actually achieved this feat first.
Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Amazon are also competing to place thousands of satellites into Earth orbit that could transmit Internet signals to ground stations on Earth.
Now they are vying for another prize – the landing of the first astronauts on the lunar surface since the last Apollo mission that went there in 1972.
Last month, SpaceX won a coveted NASA contract to build a spacecraft that would transport NASA astronauts to and from the moon’s surface as part of the space agency’s Artemis program. It was a staggering victory – one that hardly anyone outside of NASA anticipated, especially as Blue Origin and its “national team” of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper finished first in the first round of contracts. In the final round of the first moon mission, however, SpaceX not only defeated Blue Origin, but also another bidder, Dynetics, an Alabama-based defense contractor.
Almost immediately, however, the two losing companies cried foul and lodged protests with the Government Accountability Office, arguing the market was flawed. But Blue Origin went further by lobbying Congress to argue that NASA should award two contracts for what’s known as the Human Landing System (HLS).
And recently, Senator Maria Cantwell, D, chair of the Trade, Science and Transportation Committee, came to the aid of Blue Origin by inserting wording on another bill, now known as “US Innovation and Competition Act, ”forcing NASA to award a second contract and saying Congress should spend an additional $ 10 billion to fund it.
The amendment was voted on out of committee and will be voted on in the Senate. To become law, it has yet to pass the House, and the appropriators would still have to allocate the $ 10 billion in funding – a big demand amid a pandemic. The arguments continued in recent days, when the bill was revised to say that the NASA administrator could not “modify, terminate or cancel” SpaceX’s contract.
Yet the Cantwell Amendment shows Bezos’ growing influence in the nation’s capital. Amazon de Bezos was one of Cantwell’s biggest donors during his time in the Senate. The amendment is perhaps not surprising, given that Cantwell represents Washington State, which is home to both Amazon and Blue Origin.
In recent years, Blue Origin has also strengthened its activities in the nation’s capital. He spent nearly $ 2 million on lobbying last year, up from just over $ 400,000 in 2015, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks expenses. The company’s political action committee also increased its donations, spending $ 320,000 in 2020, up from $ 22,000 in 2016.
The amendment quickly became another point of contention. SpaceX Strikes First: “Cantwell Amendment Undermines Federal Government Procurement Process, Rewards Jeff Bezos With $ 10 Billion Sole Source Donation, And To Throw NASA’s Artemis Program Into Years Of Litigation », Indicates its prospectus.
“Blue Origin and its subcontractors lost the HLS competition after offering a solution that was less than more than double the price of the winning bid,” he said. And he added that even though SpaceX won the competition, the amendment “creates what is effectively a sole source. [award] to Blue Origin without competition in violation of competition law in contracts. “
The leaflet noted that Blue Origin had received hundreds of millions of dollars in awards from NASA and the Pentagon for preliminary contracts, but that the government “chose not to continue with Blue Origin after each major development contract.”
Bezos’ company, SpaceX said, “hasn’t produced a single rocket or spacecraft capable of reaching orbit.” It’s a point Musk amplified on Twitter, saying the company “can’t put it into orbit.”
Blue Origin received a flyer for lawmakers. “Elon Musk speaks repeatedly about the value of competition, but when it comes to NASA’s human landing system, he wants it all,” he said. And he noted that Musk sued the Air Force for the right to compete with the United Launch Alliance for Pentagon launch contracts.
The company called SpaceX’s accusation that the amendment is a reservation for Blue Origin a “lie” and said the amendment would allow two teams to build landers. “Two suppliers promote competition that ensures greater security and mission success through different redundancy of approaches, while also controlling costs.”
He alleged that NASA’s selection process “was different for each bidder” and that SpaceX was allowed to “recalculate” its bid “on the basis of new budget information provided by NASA that had not been provided to other bidders. “
NASA’s bias for SpaceX didn’t end there, Blue Origin said. Blue Origin accused the space agency of wrongly downgrading several of its technical designs that the agency “had previously reviewed, approved and accepted.” He added that by choosing only SpaceX “NASA risks the nation’s return to the moon entirely on SpaceX’s ability to deliver the proposed solution – Starship and the new Super Heavy booster – despite” the immense complexity “and the NASA itself documented ‘high risk’ in the selection document.
NASA said it wanted to award two contracts, but only had the money for one. Initially, NASA said that “the budget for the current fiscal year did not support even a single [contract] price. ”As a result, SpaceX has been authorized to update the payment schedule for its $ 2.9 billion bid to fit“ within NASA’s current budget ”.
NASA noted that SpaceX’s new payment schedule “does not offer an overall price reduction” and that SpaceX “does not have the right to change the content of its technical and management proposals.” SpaceX also scored higher than Blue Origin on its “management rating,” according to NASA.
Musk and Bezos founded their space exploration companies around the same time – Blue Origin in 2000; SpaceX in 2002. But SpaceX evolved a lot faster and accomplished a lot more. It first put a rocket into orbit in 2008, then won lucrative contracts from NASA and the Pentagon. NASA relies on the company to transport goods and supplies to the International Space Station and since last year SpaceX has launched three missions with astronauts to the orbiting laboratory.
Blue Origin, on the other hand, evolved at a slower pace, mimicking its mascot, the Turtle. As she has flown her New Shepard vehicle in space 15 times and prepares to perform her first mission with humans, the rocket does not reach orbit; instead, it hits the edge of space some 65 miles high, then falls back to Earth.
After losing a lucrative contract with the Pentagon, the company said the first flight of its gigantic New Glenn rocket, which would be capable of delivering payloads into orbit, would be postponed until the end of next year. Originally, Bezos said he would fly by 2020.
Bezos has said he will step down as CEO of Amazon later this year, and many in the space community, including Musk, have said they hope he will focus his attention more on Blue Origin.
SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell took a photo of Blue Origin’s slow progress at a conference in 2019.
“I think engineers think best when they’re the most compelled to do great things in a very short period of time, with very few resources. Not when you’re 20, ”Shotwell said. “I don’t think there is any motivation or motivation there.”
The launching into orbit was a point of tension between the companies. In 2013, when SpaceX was in talks to lease Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Blue Origin stepped in to say it wanted a shot to compete for the platform.
This angered Musk, who pointed out that Blue Origin had yet to fly a rocket into orbit. Musk said in an email to SpaceNews, “If they somehow show up in the next 5 years with a vehicle qualified to NASA human classification standards that can connect to the station. spatial, which Pad 39A is supposed to do, we’ll be happy to do. meet their needs.
But he added, “Frankly, I think we’re more likely to find unicorns dancing in the flame duct.”
The following year, Blue Origin received a patent for landing rocket boosters on ships at sea – a feat that SpaceX had worked to perfect and others had designed as well. SpaceX contested the patent, and won, and in an interview with The Post at the time, Musk said that “trying to patent something that people have been discussing for half a century is obviously ridiculous.”
The following year, Blue Origin landed one of its New Shepard vehicles, and Bezos on Twitter called it “the rarest beast – a used rocket.”
“It’s not quite ‘the rarest’,” Musk tweeted in response, pointing to the fact that SpaceX had previously launched test rockets a few hundred yards into the air and landed them.
The following month, when SpaceX first landed its Falcon 9 rocket, Bezos tweeted, “Welcome to the club!” Musk took it as a blow, as the Falcon 9 rocket is much more powerful than New Shepard and returned to Earth after delivering a payload to orbit.
Musk made another statement earlier this month, when SpaceX first landed on one of its Starship prototypes. It was the first flight of the vehicle he intends to use to fly NASA astronauts to the moon since SpaceX won the contract – a sign of its seriousness with developing actual flight hardware. .
She intends to make another statement when she attempts to refuel the vehicle, a test flight that Musk recently said could happen “soon.” He also intends to fly Starship into orbit later this year.