NASA announced Friday that it has selected Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, to develop a lunar lander for its Artemis program, which aims to send astronauts to the moon by the end of the decade.
The contract, worth $3.4 billion, is a major boost for Blue Origin, which lost out on a similar contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2021. Blue Origin protested and sued the U.S. government over that decision, arguing that NASA unfairly favored SpaceX and that having two lunar landing options would benefit the agency and the American people.
A judge ultimately ruled against Blue Origin, but NASA later pledged to expand the number of companies with lunar lander contracts to two. NASA said it wanted more competition, reduced costs and increased reliability for its lunar missions.
“We want to establish permanence on the moon, and we want to ensure that we have consistent access to the moon,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a press conference Friday. “So with that in mind, Blue Origin itself is contributing over 50% of the total effort to get to not only this mission but to ensure permanence.”
Blue Origin will work with partners Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co., Draper Laboratory Inc., Astrobotic Technology Inc. and Honeybee Robotics Ltd. to develop its lunar lander, called Blue Moon. The lander will be capable of carrying four astronauts to and from the lunar surface, allowing stays up to 30 days long.
The contract requires Blue Origin to fly an unpiloted demonstration mission to the lunar surface before the first crewed mission, which is expected to launch in 2029 as part of the fifth Artemis mission. That flight will follow the initial Artemis 3 moon landing, using SpaceX’s Starship lander, in the 2025-26 timeframe.
SpaceX’s Starship lander is a variant of its reusable rocket that is designed to eventually carry humans and cargo to Mars. The company has been testing Starship prototypes at its facility in Texas, but none of them have landed successfully so far. The latest test flight ended in an explosion last month.
John Couluris, Blue Origin’s vice president for lunar transportation, said the company’s team of partners brings a “perfect blending of what we’re trying to do, of lessons learned” from previous lunar landings. He said Blue Origin expects to chip in “well north” of $3.4 billion to fully develop its lander, pushing the total cost of the project to around $7 billion.
“On behalf of Blue Origin and the national team, I want to thank NASA personally,” Couluris said. “We’re very honored and humbled to be part of this incredible experience. We’re looking forward to participating on Artemis 5, and we’re looking forward to working together.”
Mr. Bezos expressed his excitement on Instagram, posting an artist’s concept of Blue Moon on the moon with the caption “We are going to the Moon! Honored to be on this journey with @nasa to land astronauts on the Moon – this time to stay.”
- Bezos’ Blue Origin wins NASA astronaut moon lander contract to compete with SpaceX’s Starship | MSN | May 19, 2023
- Bezos’ Blue Origin wins NASA contract to build astronaut lunar lander | MSN | May 19, 2023
- Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin wins $3.4B NASA contract to send astronauts to moon | New York Post | May 19, 2023