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Blue Origin Space To Develop Moon Lander For NASA

A rendering of the moon lander that Blue Origin and its partners plan to build for NASA / Blue Origin. Team led by the company will join Spa...

A rendering of the moon lander that Blue Origin and its partners plan to build for NASA / Blue Origin.
Team led by the company will join SpaceX in developing vehicles capable of transporting astronauts to the lunar surface. Jeff Bezos ’ Blue Origin and its partners will develop a moon lander for NASA, a victory for the space company after it missed out on a similar contract two years ago.

Officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Friday that it would use a lander created by Blue Origin’s team for its Artemis exploration program. The vehicle would transport astronauts from an orbiting craft to the surface of the moon on a future mission.

Bezos, who founded Blue Origin more than 20 years ago, personally got involved as the company protested NASA’s 2021 decision to issue a single lunar lander contract to SpaceX. The agency had said that year its strategy was to choose two winners, but budget constraints prevented it from taking that approach, at least initially.

A team led by Dynetics, a division of Leidos Holdings, offered a competing lander proposal /Leidos.
Blue Origin will develop the lander, called Blue Moon, as part of a broader team that includes Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Blue Origin beat a competing proposal offered by a team that included Northrop Grumman and was led by Dynetics, a division of Leidos Holdings. A spokeswoman for Dynetics said it is focused on delivering other technologies to NASA for Artemis.

NASA said the new lander contract is worth $3.4 billion. In addition to using that funding, the company expects to invest more than that amount as it prepares the vehicle for future landings, according to John Couluris, vice president for lunar transportation at Blue Origin.

“This is step one, though. We have a lot to do before we successfully land and return astronauts,” Couluris said Friday. The company plans to conduct multiple test landings before any astronauts board the lander. Blue Origin will use New Glenn, a large rocket it has been developing but hasn’t flown yet, for the missions, he said.

NASA chief Bill Nelson announcing that a team led by Blue Origin would develop a moon lander for the agency / Chip Somodevilla.
Bezos said Friday in a tweet that he was honored to be part of the return-to-the-moon effort NASA has been leading. The agency has been assembling a roster of spacecraft and rockets to support Artemis, a multiyear effort that aims to return astronauts to the moon and push on to Mars.

Safely conducting those operations is technically challenging but also high-profile, putting the companies chosen for them in the middle of what are expected to be historic landings. No human has set foot on the moon since the final Apollo mission more than 50 years ago.

NASA two years ago evaluated bids from aerospace companies to build vehicles capable of transporting people to and from the moon’s surface. The agency hired SpaceX at that point as the sole developer of a lander, awarding the Elon Musk -led company a contract then worth about $2.9 billion.

For the lunar mission, SpaceX is developing a variant of the Starship vehicle the company recently blasted off for the first time. NASA’s decision to only pick SpaceX sparked protests from Blue Origin and Dynetics. Bezos in 2021 offered to lower the roughly $6 billion price of the bid his company and its partners submitted during an earlier round. Blue Origin also protested the award to a government watchdog group and later filed a lawsuit over NASA’s decision. Those efforts weren’t successful.

After prodding by some members of Congress, NASA officials decided to bring on a second lander. “We think, and so does the Congress, that competition leads to better, more reliable outcomes,” Bill Nelson, the administrator for the space agency, said last year.

As part of that decision, NASA awarded SpaceX a second moon-landing mission using its Starship vehicle. SpaceX is currently slated to conduct the inaugural landing on the moon for Artemis in late 2025, with the next occurring in 2028, according to a mission manifest NASA officials discussed at an advisory meeting Monday.

The lander developed by the Blue Origin team is poised to handle what would be the third trip to the moon under Artemis. That is expected to happen in 2029, the manifest shows.  For that operation, the lander would be launched to the moon, where it would dock with Gateway, a logistics hub for the moon that would facilitate missions to the lunar surface. Astronauts would board the vehicle from Gateway, which NASA and other contractors are still developing. 

The White House has sought to boost funding for NASA landers, seeking $1.9 billion for the government’s next fiscal year, representing a 27% increase compared with the current year.