Bezos’s Blue Origin Would Get Help in China Bill Amendment

Senator Maria Cantwell is seeking to nudge NASA to reconsider its decision to reject Amazon Inc. founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space venture for the lunar landing program.

Cantwell, a Democrat who represents Amazon’s home state of Washington, added an amendment to a package of legislation aimed at bolstering U.S. competitiveness with China that would authorize $10 billion for NASA through 2026 to carry out the program, allowing other companies to take part.

“The Administrator shall maintain competitiveness within the human landing system program by funding design, development, testing, and evaluation for not fewer than two entities,” according to a draft of the amendment obtained by Bloomberg News.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday advanced the broader package, which includes Cantwell’s amendment, on a bipartisan 24-4 vote. It now will head to the Senate floor, where additional changes may be made to the bill. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he is aiming for it to pass the Senate by the end of the month.

“We’re pleased that the Senate Commerce Committee recognized the importance of competition in NASA’s Human Landing System program,” Linda Mills, vice president of communications at Blue Origin, said in an emailed statement. “Continued competition will safeguard America’s space industrial base and get America back to the Moon as quickly as possible.”

Mills said the company is thankful for the work done by Cantwell and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, the ranking Republican on the committee.

NASA’s Artemis program aims to develop a landing system able to land astronauts on the moon’s surface as early as 2024. NASA last month chose Elon Musk’s Space X for the initial $2.9 billion contract, leaving out Blue Origin and Huntsville, Alabama-based Dynetics Inc., which Leidos Holdings Inc. acquired last year. The agency had wanted to select two teams for the project but changed trajectory after Congress did not allocate enough money for the project.

Both Blue Origin and Dynetics filed protests with the Government Accountability Office, challenging NASA’s decision to select Space X. GAO normally has 100 days to make a determination, making Aug. 4 the deadline for the decision.

Cantwell telegraphed her disapproval with the lack of competition during the confirmation hearing of former Senator Bill Nelson to become NASA administrator.

“NASA has a big tradition of ensuring resilience in commercial programs by using multiple competitors and maintaining what’s called dissimilar redundancy,” Cantwell said during the hearing. “So I want to know that you will commit to rapidly providing Congress with a plan for assuring that kind of resilience our of the Human Lander program.”

NASA also announced that it is considering a follow-on program to the Space X demonstration.

“NASA is taking steps to establish a regular cadence of crewed missions to the surface of the Moon as part of the Artemis program,” according to a press release. “The agency recently made a selection for a crewed demonstration to land the next American astronauts on the lunar surface, and is now looking to industry again, this time for long-term lunar landing services for crews beginning in the late 2020s.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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