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Bezos and Blue Origin Have a Second Chance Against Musk's SpaceX

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space tourism company says it's 'thrilled' at the opportunity to compete for NASA's second lunar landing contract.
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One small step for man, one giant leap for ... Jeff Bezos?

Blue Origin, Amazon  (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com Inc. Report Founder Jeff Bezos's aerospace company, is getting another crack at a moon landing.

Earlier this week, NASA said it planned a second commercial project to develop a moon landing system to carry astronauts to and from the lunar surface. 

The effort is part of NASA's Artemis Program, an ongoing space mission with the goal of landing the first female astronaut and the first astronaut of color on the moon's South Pole.

Human beings have not set foot on the moon in almost 50 years.

"Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to carry out a cadence of missions over the next decade," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.

A Blue Origin spokesperson said the company "is thrilled that NASA is creating competition by procuring a second human lunar landing system."

"By doing so, NASA will establish the critical redundancy and robustness needed for establishing permanent U.S. lunar presence," the spokesperson said. "Blue Origin is ready to compete and remains deeply committed to the success of Artemis."

'The Likely Front Runner'

Bezos's space company and NASA have had their differences.

Blue Origin and Dynetics of Huntsville, Ala., filed a protest last year with the U.S. Government Accountability Office after NASA awarded a $2.9 billion lunar landing system contract to SpaceX. That's the rocket and space tech company started by Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc. Report Co-Founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk.

The companies asserted that NASA was required to make multiple awards consistent with its broad agency announcement that stated a preference for multiple awards.

NASA had planned to hire two companies for the project but decided to award just one after receiving insufficient financing from Congress, according to the New York Times.

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Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against NASA in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, challenging an alleged unlawful and improper evaluation of its proposal for a human landing system program. 

NASA temporarily halted work on the SpaceX project last August after Blue Origin filed the lawsuit. U.S. Judge Richard Hertling dismissed the case in November.

Jim Bell, a professor with Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration and director of ASU's NewSpace Initiative, said, "Blue Origin definitely has another chance to get into the business of transporting astronauts to the lunar surface with this latest opportunity just announced by NASA."

"Blue Origin is likely to be regarded as the front-runner for this new opportunity because of the advance work they've done on their 'Blue Moon' lander concept," Bell said. "But Dynetics and perhaps other companies or consortia of companies that we don't know about yet could certainly put in strong bids as well."

'The Next Giant Leap'

NASA’s plans call for long-term lunar exploration and include landing the first woman and first person of color on the moon as part of future Artemis missions.

The agency said it was "committed to using a commercial astronaut lunar lander to carry the astronauts to the surface of the moon, expanding exploration and preparing humanity for the next giant leap, human exploration of Mars."

Dynetics and SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In September, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin  (LMT) - Get Lockheed Martin Corporation Report and Northrop Grumman  (NOC) - Get Northrop Grumman Corporation Report were included in a follow up program called NextSTEP Appendix N.

SpaceX and Dynetics were also included in the program and all the companies will share a total of $146 million in fixed price awards.

Blue Origin has completed three human space flights on its own and one of those humans was the actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on "Star Trek."

Gary Lai, chief architect of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket system, is scheduled to go on the next Blue Origin flight, which is scheduled for Monday. 

"On March 29, #NewShepard Chief Architect Gary Lai will fly on the vehicle he’s spent 18 years designing, developing, testing, and flying," the company said in tweet. "We can’t wait for Gary—a friend, mentor, and hero to all of us—to become Astronaut Gary Lai."

Lai replaces "Saturday Night Live" star Pete Davidson. A New York Times report said that when the flight was rescheduled to March 29 from March 23, Blue Origin said that Davidson would not be able to participate. The company did not say why.