Tencent technology news on August 17, a space war between billionaires may have ended, but the war continues. Although Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson briefly entered the edge of space in July, the real conflict worthy of attention occurred between Bezos’s space company Blue origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, The stakes in this conflict are much higher than the “Carmen line” (space boundary). This time, the dispute put NASA in trouble and even postponed the plan of returning humans to the moon again.
In April this year, NASA selected SpaceX and its starship design as the vehicle for sending astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024 in the Artemis return to the moon program. Other bidders blue origin and defense contractor dynetics were snubbed in the process. After the protest was rejected by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), blue origin filed a lawsuit against NASA’s decision in federal court.
The company said in a statement: “blue origin filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Federal Claims Court to try to make up for the defects found in the contract award process of NASA human landing system (HLS). We firmly believe that the problems found in this procurement and its results must be corrected in order to restore fairness, create competition and ensure the safe return of the United States to the moon. ”
NASA’s decision to only choose SpaceX for the moon mission was surprising. Officials of the agency have said they want to “select at least two contractors” to compete in the development process and just in case. But NASA later said that Congress had not allocated enough funds to support the award of the two contracts. In the resulting protests, blue origin and dynetics believed that NASA should modify the project terms because it was clear that it had only a budget for awarding a contract. In addition, the protest held that NASA had improper negotiations with SpaceX, the lowest bidder among the three companies, on the final bidding price.
These arguments have been rejected by the Gao. Although Monday’s lawsuit has been sealed, the blue origin motion shows that it will cite the same information submitted to the Gao and “additional sensitive information”. In short, the reason why blue origin filed the lawsuit is mainly because NASA and the federal government once again sided with musk and SpaceX, and Bezos and musk had a fundamental conflict in space vision.
Have the same passion and pursue different goals
It has long been rumored that musk and Bezos are friendly competitors in the space field. In 2004, the two were photographed dining together. At that time, the space companies they founded were still in their infancy. After that meeting, SpaceX successfully tested the Falcon 1 rocket for the first time in 2008, and blue origin also conducted several low altitude flights of small test aircraft in the following four years.
In the past ten years, the two basically did not interfere with each other. But by 2013, their relationship had deteriorated significantly. At that time, NASA was seeking to rent the 39th launch pad to send Apollo astronauts to the moon. SpaceX and blue origin submitted proposals. But before the tenant was selected, blue origin protested after NASA director Charles Bolden commented that the latter favored SpaceX. Finally, Gao rejected the protest and SpaceX obtained the right to use the launch pad. The development of the whole event is very similar to the recent dispute over the HLS contract.
In response to the protest against the origin of blue, musk even launched a public counterattack against Bezos, triggering a war of words, which continues today. Musk said at that time: “if blue origin can launch aircraft that meet NASA’s manned rating standards in some way in the next five years and can dock with the space station, we will be happy to meet their needs. But frankly, I think we are more likely to achieve this goal first. ”
Just over a year later, SpaceX again defeated blue origin with the help of the federal government. This time, the U.S. patent trial and Appeal Board ruled that most of the patents of blue origin for recovering space launch vehicles at sea actually did not meet the patent application standards. SpaceX argues that this concept has been conceived by various people in the scientific community and even science fiction for decades, and the Committee agrees.
The street battle behind the scenes began
So far, the tension between SpaceX and blue origin has not been so public, except for those who pay close attention to the space industry. This began to change when blue origin successfully landed its new Shepard rocket for the first time. The company and Bezos are happy to shout at the top of the mountain to achieve this milestone, because it happened before SpaceX is trying but has not successfully recovered its Falcon 9 rocket.
Musk was eager to fight back. He pointed out that SpaceX had successfully landed several “grasshopper” prototypes in 2012 and 2013. He also pointed out that it is fair to say that the orbital mission carried out by the Falcon 9 rocket is much more complex and difficult than the “straight up and down” flight of the new Shepard to and from the Carmen line. The following month, when SpaceX finally recovered the Falcon 9 rocket, Bezos refuted. He bitterly congratulated the “falcon’s sub orbital booster” on its landing, with special emphasis on the sub orbital part, and added: “welcome to the club!”
In terms of satellite broadband, Bezos and musk also find themselves facing potential competition. SpaceX has begun to provide high-speed Internet services in low earth orbit through the star chain project, while Amazon, another enterprise of Bezos, hopes to provide similar services and has formulated the project Kuiper. In response to an article detailing the koiper plan in 2019, musk only said on twitter that Bezos was an imitator.
The battle to return to the moon is more intense
But this billionaire space war in the 21st century has a higher stake. Everyone hopes that their vision can change the future of civilization. Musk proposed sending humans to Mars to make us a “multi planetary species”. But Bezos is not a fan of this idea. In 2019, he announced his thoughts on the future of mankind. In order to better protect the earth’s environment, he hopes to transfer most of our heavy industry to orbit and build a cool space station.
Bezos described the so-called “space road” in 2019, including returning to the moon, and announced the lander and lunar rover designed by blue origin. Bezos announced on the stage: “it’s time to return to the moon. This time we’ll stay.” However, it now seems that the efforts made by blue origin to achieve this goal are not appropriate for NASA, which seems to be more optimistic about SpaceX’s starship.
Therefore, blue origin goes back to the strategy it used in the past. At that time, it criticized NASA for favoring SpaceX and opposing NASA’s decision through federal agencies. When this route proved to be a dead end again, blue origin then launched a public relations campaign in the media, criticizing the Starship as “too complex and too risky” in carrying out the lunar mission. Naturally, musk responded on twitter, refuting the wrong saying of blue origin and pointing out that SpaceX has successfully carried out many international space station missions.
Blue origin took the latest legal action after its last attempt to win NASA’s support. In an open letter to NASA Director Bill Nelson at the end of last month, Bezos offered to pay NASA $2 billion in exchange for a second HLS contract. In essence, Amazon hopes to continue to participate in NASA projects by offering substantial discounts after competitors obtain contracts.
But NASA continues to say that at present it only wants to take SpaceX’s lander to the lunar surface. Blue origin still refuses to give in, even if it means delaying human return to the moon in the process. NASA’s goal of landing on the moon in 2024 has always been too ambitious. Coupled with the possibility of freezing key contracts, this goal now feels that it is not easy to achieve.
NASA representative said: “according to the Artemis plan, NASA will provide the latest information on the return to the moon project as soon as possible and as safely as possible.” SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment（ Tencent Technology (reviser / Jinlu)