Blue Origin Wanted a $6 Billion NASA Contract—It Received a $26 Million One Instead

NASA on Tuesday awarded Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and four other companies a batch of contracts to develop lunar lander concepts.

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks to the media on the company’s sustainability efforts on September 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin lost a bid to competitor SpaceX to build a human landing system for NASA’s Artemis Program. This week, it won a NASA contract for a similar job—but at a much smaller price tag.

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NASA announced Tuesday that it has awarded Blue Origin and four other companies a batch of contracts worth a combined $146 million to develop moon lander concepts that could potentially lead to actual landing system development in the future.

Blue Origin’s contract was $26.5 million. The other four companies are SpaceX ($9.4 million), Dynetics ($40.8 million), Lockheed Martin ($35.2 million) and Northrop Grumman ($34.8 million).

The contracts were awarded under NASA’s NextSTEP-2 (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships) Appendix N: Sustainable Human Landing System Studies and Risk Reduction. It’s a different section under the Artemis Program from the Human Landing System (HLS) contract that was given to SpaceX earlier this year, for which Blue Origin and Dynetics both submitted competing proposals.

SpaceX’s moon lander proposal is estimated to cost $2.9 billion, beating Blue Origin’s $5.99 billion and Dynetics’ $3.3 billion bids.

While the NextSTEP-2 contracts are not as significant as the HLS, NASA said the outcome of these projects could inform future lander development. The contractors will be tasked to conduct component tests for performance, safety and other functionalities.

“The work from these companies will ultimately help shape the strategy and requirements for a future NASA’s solicitation to provide regular astronaut transportation from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon,” the agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

In July, Blue Origin and Dynetics filed a complaint with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, protesting NASA selecting only one HLS contractor. The watchdog ruled that NASA had run a fair competition. In response, Blue Origin sued NASA last month in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Blue Origin Wanted a $6 Billion NASA Contract—It Received a $26 Million One Instead