Sometimes, billionaires lose. Even if you are the richest man in the world.
It’s like a game of craps — throw the dice, send in the high-priced lawyers, and hope for the best.
However, NASA, the space agency, was not impressed.
According to a report in The Independent, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has lost his bid to block a US$2.9 billion NASA award to Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a landing system to return astronauts to the moon.
The billionaire’s space company, Blue Origin, had lodged a massive, legal-heavy 50-page protest of the decision with federal auditors at the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The company argued that NASA misjudged Blue Origin’s proposal in the three-way competition to build the new Moon lander, which also involved a bid from the Alabama-based defence firm Dynetics, the report said.
The three companies were competing to build the landing craft that would be used in the Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and next man on the surface of the moon by 2024.
Blue Origin had challenged the US$2.9 billion award to Musk’s SpaceX for the lander, arguing NASA was required to make multiple awards.
In a terse ruling, the GAO said it “denied the protest arguments that NASA acted improperly in making a single award to SpaceX.”
The company also offered to restore competition to the Human Landing System (HLS) program by closing the US space agency’s budgetary shortfall with a waiver of US$2 billion on payments, in an open letter to NASA’s lead administrator Bill Nelson — who apparently, could not be influenced.
In addition, the company said it would also fund the space vehicle’s test launch to low-Earth orbit which is likely to cost millions more, the report said.
The space agency’s evaluation of three lander proposals was “reasonable, and consistent with applicable procurement law, regulation, and the announcement’s terms,” GAO attorney Kenneth Patton said in a statement.
At the time of the award, NASA officials said that they had initially intended to award two contracts to foster competition as well as to have a backup in case one of the contractors faltered.
The agency awarded only one contract, however, because it did not have the funding from Congress, and it was able to do that only after SpaceX updated its payment schedule to fit NASA’s budget, the report said.
NASA, in a statement, said that the GAO decision will allow the agency “to establish a timeline for the first crewed landing on the Moon in more than 50 years.”
“As soon as possible, NASA will provide an update on the way ahead for Artemis, the human landing system, and humanity’s return to the Moon.
“We will continue to work with the Biden Administration and Congress to ensure funding for a robust and sustainable approach for the nation’s return to the Moon in a collaborative effort with U.S. commercial partners,” the US space agency said.
But Bezos said the program “won’t create true competition because it is rushed, it is unfunded, and it provides a multiyear head-start to the one funded, single-source supplier.”
On Friday, Blue Origin said in a statement that it would continue to press for NASA to award a second contract.
Landing astronauts on the moon is a personal passion for Bezos, who has said watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step onto the moon in 1969 ignited a lifelong interest in space.
He picked the anniversary of that Apollo 11 mission, July 20, to fly on his company’s New Shepard spacecraft on a suborbital trip to space and back.
And now that he has stepped down as CEO of Amazon, he has said he would devote more time and energy to Blue Origin, which has lagged far behind SpaceX.
So yes, billionaires sometimes lose, but apparently, they don’t give up easy.
Sources: The Independent, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, CNBC