In a second attempt, Jeff Bezos and his rocket company have won a contract to take NASA astronauts to the surface of the moon.
NASA announced on Friday that it had awarded Mr. Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, the contract to provide its Blue Moon lander for the lunar mission currently scheduled to launch in 2029.
Artemis V is another key component of NASA’s Artemis program, which is to return astronauts to the Moon as part of an effort to explore the South Pole. Astronauts are about to land on the moon in a vehicle developed by SpaceX for the Artemis III and IV missions.
“We want more competition,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during an event Friday at NASA headquarters in Washington. “It means you have credibility. You have backups.”
NASA will pay Blue Origin $3.4 billion, and John Coulouris, Blue Origin’s vice president for lunar transportation, said it will contribute “well north” of that amount to the development effort.
The deal’s success could start a promising comeback year for Blue Origin after several delays and setbacks. Its new Shepard vehicle, which travels into space but does not travel into orbit, failed during a launch last September, but there were no passengers. Blue Origin hopes to find the cause and resume New Shepherd flights later this year, carrying space tourists and scientific cargo.
Some of the hardware produced by Blue Origin may finally be used in an orbital mission in the coming months. The company developed the engines for the booster stage of the Vulcan rocket developed by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Blue Origin may also offer some public glimpses of the New Glenn, a much larger rocket that launches payloads into orbit.
For the Lunar Lander contract, Blue Origin, Huntsville, Ala., joined other aerospace companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Dynetics won the second team led by Dynetics, a subsidiary of Reston’s Leidos. It enlisted the help of aerospace contractor Northrop Grumman for its bid.
In 2021, Blue Origin and Dynatics were disappointed when NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build a variant of its giant Starship vehicle in 2021.
Both agencies protested the decision, especially since NASA officials originally intended to award two contracts.
This would parallel NASA’s successful efforts to outsource the transportation of cargo and personnel to the International Space Station to private companies. Agency officials have said competition helps keep costs down and provides redundancy if something goes wrong.
But in awarding only one to SpaceX, NASA officials said there wasn’t enough money in their budget for a second lander. SpaceX’s $2.9 billion bid is the lowest ever. Blue Origin’s proposed design had a price tag of $6 billion, and the design presented by Dynetics was even more expensive.
The Federal Government Accountability Office rejected both companies’ objections. Blue Origin later sued in federal court and lost again.
Last year, after winning a big budget boost from Congress, NASA announced the race for a second lunar lander. Dynatex and Blue Origin decided to compete again, although there were some changes in the companies participating in the efforts. Northrop Grumman, who was part of Blue Origin’s original plan, moved to the Dynatics team.
Blue Origin was added to its group Boeing; Astrobotic, a small Pittsburgh company that develops robotic lunar landers; and Honeybee Robotics, an aerospace technology company acquired by Blue Origin last year.
The Blue Origin lander, designed to take two astronauts to the moon’s south pole, won’t land on the moon for a while.
SpaceX’s initial $2.9 billion contract was to provide a lander for the first lunar landing during Artemis III, which is currently scheduled for late 2025 but could slip to 2026 or later. In November, NASA exercised a $1.15 billion option in that contract for SpaceX to also provide a lander for the planned Artemis IV in 2028.
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