Blue Origin Wins $3.4 Billion Contract from NASA for Lunar Lander Development
In a major win for Blue Origin, the Jeff Bezos-owned company has secured a $3.4 billion contract from NASA to develop a lunar lander for the Artemis mission. This follows a previous lawsuit that Blue Origin lost to SpaceX, which had been awarded the sole contract for the mission in 2021. However, NASA announced in March 2022 that it would develop a second human lunar lander, inviting space companies to make proposals. Blue Origin's win means that it will now ferry Artemis astronauts from Lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon and back. The new landing system is expected to be ready and tested for Artemis V, which is currently slated for launch in 2029.
NASA had originally hoped to have more than one company working on developing lunar landers for the Artemis mission, but after awarding a single-source contract to SpaceX, costs were cited as the reason. Congress had allotted NASA about $2 billion less than it had requested in fiscal year 2021. But by awarding a contract to Blue Origin, NASA is hoping to increase competition, reduce costs to taxpayers, support a regular cadence of lunar landings, and further invest in the lunar economy.
Blue Origin's national team for the lunar lander includes Lockheed Martin, Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic, and Honeybee Robotics. The Blue Moon lander will first perform an uncrewed demonstration landing no earlier than 2028, and if all goes well, it will then move forward with the Artemis V crewed landing on the Moon. The cargo-only version of the lander is also able to take flight.
Having two independent landers from different providers will help NASA achieve its goals on and around the Moon in preparation for future astronaut missions to Mars, a NASA statement said. The Artemis program aims to eventually sponsor a regular cadence of astronauts to the Moon, with a focus on the lunar south pole, where there is water in the form of ice in the permanently shadowed craters.
In 2028, the Blue Moon lander will attempt a landing without crew as a demonstration. Assuming success, it will proceed with the Artemis V mission for a crewed lunar landing. The cargo-only version of the lander is also able to take flight.
The competition for the lunar lander involved only two companies, with Dynetics being the other one. Blue Origin and Dynetics both lost their previous bids to build lunar landers for Artemis 3 and 4, with SpaceX getting the contracts instead, which are valued at $2.89 billion and $1.15 billion, respectively. For those crewed missions, SpaceX will use its Starship spacecraft to land humans on the Moon, with Artemis 3, the first crewed lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972, slated to land in late 2025 or at some point in 2026.
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