Jeff Bezos has offered Nasa $2 billion in a last-ditch attempt to win a moon landing contract for his company Blue Origin, reigniting his space race with Elon Musk.
The Amazon founder was not selected by Nasa to build a spacecraft to take astronauts to the moon, with the $2.9 billion deal awarded to Mr Musk’s SpaceX instead, but Mr Bezos has now pledged to cover the space agency’s costs and says the move is in “the national interest.”
The extraordinary intervention comes less than a week after the world's richest man flew to the edge of space in his New Shepherd rocket, but his company is currently locked in a legal battle with Nasa and experts say the offer is unlikely to be accepted.
In an open letter to Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson, Mr Bezos said: “Blue Origin will bridge the HLS budgetary funding shortfall by waiving all payments in the current and next two government fiscal years up to $2 billion to get the program back on track right now.
"This offer is not a deferral, but is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments.
"Without competition, a short time into the contract, Nasa will find itself with limited options as it attempts to negotiate missed deadlines, design changes, and cost overruns," he wrote.
"Without competition, Nasa's short-term and long-term lunar ambitions will be delayed, will ultimately cost more, and won't serve the national interest."
Nasa had asked for project proposals as part of its Artemis program to return humans to the moon for the first time since 1972.
In the following decades, the space agency's priorities changed, and it focused on other projects, including launching the ISS and sending a rover to Mars. But in 2017, Donald Trump released government funds to kickstart a project to get humans on the moon once again.
In April, it awarded the multibillion dollar contract to SpaceX, surprisingly rejecting bids from Blue Origin and defence contractor Dynetics.
The space agency cited its own funding shortfalls, SpaceX's proven record of orbital missions and other factors in a contract decision that senior Nasa official Kathy Lueders called "what's the best value to the government."
In protest, Blue Origin accused the agency of giving SpaceX an unfair advantage by allowing it to revise its pricing, and filed a complaint with the US Government Accountability Office.
Nasa says it is aware of the $2 billion offer but told the Telegraph that because of the ongoing legal dispute with Blue Origin over the contract, it would not be commenting.
Lori Garver, Nasa’s former deputy administrator has poured cold water on the proposal, saying: “Nasa can’t just ‘take offers’ because funding is offered."
“I see this as a positive sign overall, but it should not impact the current awards or strategy," she told The Verge.
“There’s absolutely nothing to stop Blue from moving forward with their own money to get in a better position to win something in the next round,” she added.