Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, has emerged victorious in a NASA contract competition to land astronauts on the moon. This achievement comes two years after SpaceX won a similar contract, marking a significant milestone for Blue Origin. The $3.4 billion contract awarded on Friday will enable Blue Origin to lead a team in developing a lunar lander named Blue Moon, which is set to transport astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2029, following SpaceX’s initial crew landings.
Details of the Contract and NASA’s Objectives:
While NASA will continue to utilize its own rockets and capsules to transport astronauts to lunar orbit, the agency aims to transition to private companies for the subsequent phases. By involving private entities, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson emphasizes the agency’s goal of exploring different landing options as it embarks on a return to the moon, more than 50 years after the conclusion of the Apollo moonshots.
To establish a sustainable presence on the moon, Blue Origin is investing billions of dollars in addition to the NASA contract. John Couluris, Blue Origin’s vice president, highlights the challenges that lie ahead before successful astronaut landings and returns can be achieved.
Legal Battle and NASA’s Artemis Program:
Two years ago, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against NASA after the agency awarded the lunar landing contract to SpaceX. However, a federal judge upheld NASA’s decision. The current contract awarded to Blue Origin allows the company to contribute to NASA’s Artemis program, which follows in the footsteps of the Apollo moon missions from the 1960s and 1970s. The Artemis program began with a successful test flight in late 2022, as an empty Orion capsule orbited the moon before returning.
Future Lunar Missions and Technology:
The next Artemis flight, scheduled for late next year, will involve Canadian and U.S. astronauts flying to and from the moon without landing. Subsequently, in a mission expected no earlier than late 2025, two American astronauts will descend to the lunar surface aboard a SpaceX Starship. Both SpaceX and Blue Origin plan to conduct unmanned test landings on the moon before sending astronauts.
While SpaceX’s Starship boasts a futuristic appearance with its shiny stainless steel exterior, Blue Moon resembles a more traditional capsule placed atop a tall structure with legs. Standing at 52 feet (16 meters) on the moon, Blue Moon shares the goal of reusability with SpaceX’s lander.
Blue Origin’s Collaborative Efforts:
Blue Origin’s team for the lunar lander project consists of five partners: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Draper, Astrobotic Technology, and Honeybee Robotics. Only one other bid was submitted for the contract competition, according to NASA.
Blue Origin’s successful bid for the NASA contract marks a significant step forward in the company’s pursuit of lunar exploration. With the contract secured, Blue Origin will collaborate with its partners to develop the Blue Moon lander, supporting NASA’s Artemis program and the agency’s ambition to establish a sustained presence on the moon. The competition between SpaceX and Blue Origin in the realm of space exploration promises exciting advancements and possibilities for future lunar missions.
By Impact Lab