The space race between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk is heating up, with the companies of both billionaires set to facilitate humanity’s return to the moon in the next decade.
Bezos’s Blue Origin has been awarded a $3.4 billion NASA contract to build a moon landing system for the 2029 Artemis V mission, NASA revealed May 19. The announcement marks nearly two years after Bezos lost out to Musk’s SpaceX to provide a landing system for the Artemis III mission.
NASA’s Artemis program aims to re-establish a human presence on the moon, increase U.S. lunar studies and land the first woman and person of color on the moon. For Artemis V, Blue Origin will provide a human landing system that will transfer two astronauts from NASA’s Gateway, an outpost orbiting the moon which has yet to be built, to the moon’s South Pole Region.
Bezos said he was “honored to be on this journey with NASA,” in a tweet. The Blue Origin founder has long expressed his desire to participate in a NASA moon landing mission, going so far as to publicly oppose the organization’s contract with SpaceX in 2021.
A history of space rivalry between Bezos and Musk
In April of that year, Musk’s company was awarded $2.9 billion for the development of a human landing system for the Artemis III mission. Tentatively scheduled for late 2025, NASA’s Artemis III is on track to be the first human return to the moon in more than 50 years.
Blue Origin and Dynetics, another company that bid for the project, promptly filed a complaint with the U.S. Government Accountability Office to challenge the proposal evaluations of NASA, which had originally intended to award its Artemis III contract to two companies instead of one. The office later ruled NASA had run a fair competition.
Bezos also wrote an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, offering to waive $2 million in existing contracts between Blue Origin and NASA if his company was awarded a separate moon lander contract. Jabs were subsequently exchanged between Bezos and Musk, the latter of whom mocked the Amazon founder by tweeting “Somehow, this wasn’t convincing,” alongside a photograph of a deflated Blue Origin prototype
Bezos also filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims over the contract, claiming NASA violated procurement strategy. “You cannot sue your way to the moon, no matter how good your lawyers are,” said Musk in response to the legal challenge.
The lawsuit, which paused SpaceX’s work with NASA for around three months, was eventually dismissed. But the two billionaires have continued to share public jabs over their respective space ventures. In Aug. 2021, Bezos’s Amazon urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to shut down a SpaceX project regarding its second-generation Starlink network, arguing it sidestepped satellite deployment regulations.
“Turns out [Bezos] retired in order to pursue a full-time job filing lawsuits against SpaceX,” tweeted Musk in response. He has also made digs at the viability of Bezos’s Blue Origin, claiming that “if he wants to get to orbit, less partying and more work would be advisable.” In Nov. 2022, SpaceX was awarded a second contract with NASA, receiving $1.15 billion to provide another moon landing system for its Artemis IV mission, scheduled for 2027.
Will the competition continue?
The rivalry between Blue Origin and SpaceX is actually encouraged by NASA, which said the two companies will be able to compete for future lunar access opportunities on Artemis missions.
“Having two distinct lunar lander designs, with different approaches to how they meet NASA’s mission needs, provides more robustness and ensures a regular cadence of moon landings,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager of the human landing system at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in a statement. “This competitive approach drives innovation, brings down costs, and invests in commercial capabilities to grow the business opportunities that can serve other customers and foster a lunar economy.”