After a failed first attempt, Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin have been awarded a contract to transport NASA men to the moon.
On Friday, NASA revealed that Mr. Bezos’ firm, Blue Origin, had been given a contract to provide a lunar lander for a moon mission set for flight in 2029. Blue Moon, a 50-foot-tall spaceship that can carry four humans to the lunar surface, was purchased by NASA for $3.4 billion.
Artemis V is a vital aspect of NASA’s Artemis programme to return people to the moon for exploration of the lunar south pole. SpaceX is providing the lunar landing craft for the upcoming Artemis III and Artemis IV missions.
Vice President for Lunar Transportation at Blue Origin, John Couluris, said that the firm was contributing “well north” of the price of the NASA contract amount to the research effort and that the corporation, not NASA, would be responsible for any cost overruns. Given Mr. Bezos’s riches, several lawmakers have already expressed concern about giving government money to Blue Origin.
According to Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager of NASA’s human landing system programme, the second lander “also helps us with a more diversified industrial base, and that will help us advance innovation in the future.”
Blue Origin has had a rocky few years, with delays and failures including the September 2018 failure of one of its New Shepard spacecraft (which go into space but not orbit) during a launch that carried experiments but no passengers. This contract victory might mark the beginning of a hopeful comeback year for the company. After investigating the issue, Blue Origin plans to restart New Shepard flights later this year, carrying both space passengers and scientific payloads.
And in the coming months, some technology built by Blue Origin may be utilised on an orbital trip. The aerospace titans Boeing and Lockheed Martin formed United Launch Alliance to create their Vulcan rocket, and that alliance’s subsidiary, United Launch Alliance, produced the rocket’s booster stage’s engines.
Additionally, Blue Origin may show off their far bigger rocket, New Glenn, which will be used to send cargo into space.
Blue Origin, in partnership with other aerospace giants including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, outcompeted a second team formed by Dynetics, an Alabama-based defence business, to win the lunar lander contract.
Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket has a diameter of 23 feet, and the Blue Moon lander, fully loaded with propellants, will weigh more than 45 metric tonnes.
The Artemis V lander will first make a stop at Gateway, a modest station in lunar orbit. The Orion capsule, another spaceship developed by NASA, will transport four humans to the Gateway. The crew will next go to the Blue Moon lander, where they will spend the next week or so near the moon’s south pole.
Once the four astronauts have finished their moonwalk, the lander will lift off towards Gateway, and the Orion capsule will bring them back to Earth. It would be possible to utilise the same lander for several expeditions.
To replenish the Blue Moon’s fuel tanks, a second Blue Origin spaceship will have to go from Earth to lunar orbit carrying liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Propellant transfer in the near-weightless environment of space is challenging and has not yet been proven on a significant scale, particularly for ultracold liquid hydrogen.
Mr. Couluris said that a year before to its usage by humans, in 2029, Blue Origin will execute an uncrewed demonstration flight of the lander.
In addition to humans, Mr. Couluris said that the lunar lander might be outfitted to transport 30 metric tonnes of goods “to form the foundation of habitats and other permanent infrastructure” on the moon’s surface.
Mr. Bezos’ firm made a second attempt to land on the moon with the Artemis V mission. After Blue Origin and Dynetics lost out to SpaceX in 2021’s competition to put humans on the moon, NASA gave SpaceX a fixed $2.9 billion contract to develop a variant of their enormous Starship spacecraft.
That would have been similar to NASA’s successful attempts to contract out the delivery of supplies and crew members to the International Space Station. However, NASA said at the time that a second lander was not possible due to financial constraints. The $2.9 billion offered by SpaceX was the lowest. The estimated cost of Blue Origin’s design was $6 billion, while Dynetics’ estimate was much higher.
The Government Accountability Office of the United States decided against the two businesses’ appeals. The company took its case to federal court but still lost.
In September of last year, NASA launched a competition for a second lunar lander after successfully lobbying for a greater funding from Congress. Although the businesses involved in the competition were shuffled about, Dynetics and Blue Origin have agreed to compete again. Originally a member of Blue Origin’s proposal, Northrop Grumman has now joined Dynetics.
Boeing, a tiny Pittsburgh business working on autonomous lunar landers called Astrobotic, and Honeybee Robotics, a space technology company that Blue Origin purchased last year, all joined Blue Origin’s team.
Originally, SpaceX was supposed to provide the lander for the first lunar landing on the Artemis III mission, which is set for late 2025 but will likely be delayed until 2026 at the earliest. The deal was originally worth $2.9 billion. In November, NASA decided to spend an additional $1.15 billion to have SpaceX produce a lander for the Artemis IV mission in 2028.
SpaceX and Blue Origin have both designed rockets that NASA may use for future flights beyond Artemis V.
In the future, organisations and individuals outside NASA will be able to purchase Blue Moon flights. A lot of organisations are interested, Mr. Couluris added.