Remember when Space X won that contract to build the new lunar lander? Well, the Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin wanted that money too and it looks like the plucky, upstart company just might get it and more, thanks to the magic of lobbying.
Former Jalopnik contributor Elon Musk and lizard eater Jeff Bezos have both been called the “richest being to have existed” in the last year, but that’s not all they have in common! They also have vanity space exploration companies that compete for your tax dollars. Back in April, Musk’s Space X was awarded a $2.9 billion-dollar contract to develop a lunar lander. That meant that Bezos’ Blue Origin missed out on the contract, which is worth about .01 percent of Jeff’s $188.9 billion dollar personal fortune. No to worry though, it looks like Bezos’ pals in the US Senate are ready to hand him an even bigger payday for trying hard and having a good attitude.
Sen. Maria Cantwell attached the $10 billion amendment to the Endless Frontier Act, a monster piece of legislation funding space exploration. She reasons the amendment is required because there “…needs to be redundancy.” From the Intercept:
“I think there needs to be redundancy,” or multiple contractors in case one fails, she told Nelson at his confirmation hearing. “And it has to be clear this process can’t be redundancy later. It has to be redundancy now.”
The order would come through the Endless Frontier Act, a bill to beef up resources for science and technology research that’s being debated on the Senate floor this week. An amendment was added to that legislation by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to hand over $10 billion to NASA — money that most likely would go to Blue Origin, a company that’s headquartered in Cantwell’s home state.
Cantwell’s amendment is no sure bet though: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a last-minute amendment Monday to eliminate the $10 billion. “It does not make a lot of sense to me that we would provide billions of dollars to a company owned by the wealthiest guy in America,” Sanders told The Intercept Tuesday.
Pop Pop Sanders is right, as usual. Just because Bezos lost out on the $2.9 billion contract lunar lander contract to Musk’s SpaceX doesn’t mean Blue Origin deserves such a costly consolation prize. It probably won’t surprise you that Blue Origin is based in Cantwell’s state of Washington. It also probably won’t surprise you that Blue Origin spent over half a million dollars in lobbying efforts in the first three months of 2021 alone, according to Intercept. Or that Cantwell has accepted a ton of money from Amazon over the years. This blog post is just full of non-surprises!
Once SpaceX was awarded the contract, Blue Origin and a second company that was in the running, Dynetics, filled protests with the Government Accountability Office. This protest has caused NASA to suspend its contract with SpaceX until everything can get straightened out. SpaceX is also in its own fight with the American government, suing the U.S. Air Force over the military branch’s choice of United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman, and yes, Blue Origin for space launch services. It’s almost like farming out space exploration to private companies isn’t a great idea!
Also worth noting that we at Jalopnik had a favorite for the lunar lander, and it wasn’t either billionaire playboys’ space company. As Jason Torchinsky pointed out last year, Dynetics had the cleaner design and a novel approach to the problems of landing and taking off from the moon:
The Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS, and sorry, space-apes) is interesting because of how close to the surface it is, especially when compared to the other lander designs, especially the SpaceX one you’ll see next.
The packaging of the DHLS the most novel part; instead of the traditional vertical stack that defines most spacecraft construction, this lander uses a horizontal approach, with a cylindrical crew cabin sandwiched between a pair of spherical tanks with engine assemblies below them. A pair of what look like solar panels rise up from the main body, like a pair of colossal robot-rabbit ears.
The DHLS is a one-stage design, meaning that the whole thing lifts off and lands as a unit, and can be refueled at the lunar gateway or dock with an Orion capsule for crew transfer.
The DHLS seems to be a great clean-sheet design, and I think how low it is will prove to be a great advantage.
The report from the Intercept notes that Cantwell’s $10 billion amendment seems to have been designed specifically for Blue Origin though. Poor Dynetics, superior lander and zero consolation prize. Time to start sending money to elected officials!