Bezos gets his Moon wish with $3.4 billion lunar lander contract
After an initial disappointment, Jeff Bezos is back in the Moon business. NASA selected Blue Origin's Blue Moon crewed lander for the space agency's Artemis V mission to the lunar South Pole in 2029 under a firm-fixed price contract of (US)$3.4 billion.
Two years ago, Jeff Bezos's dream of becoming a major player in human spaceflight suffered a major setback when NASA chose SpaceX's Starship HLS to develop the lander that would return US astronauts to the Moon. According to the agency, the original plan was to have multiple landers from multiple contractors, but budget cuts required only one be chosen.
Now, that policy has been reversed and Blue Origin is part of NASA's plan to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon, as a way to increase competition, reduce costs, and speed up the pace of future missions.
Under the new contract, the company will develop, test, and verify its lander – and will conduct one uncrewed demonstration landing on the Moon in anticipation of Artemis V. The 52-ft (16-m) high Blue Moon is being developed by Blue Origin as the head of a consortium that includes Lockheed Martin, Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic, and Honeybee Robotics.
The lander will be in three variants. One is a one-way cargo version with a payload capacity of 30 tonnes, a reusable cargo ship that carries 20 tonnes, and the crew version for up to four passengers. Each has a design life of 30 days.
During the Artemis V mission, the Blue Moon will be docked with the Gateway cislunar space station, where two astronauts will board. Unlike the Apollo LEMs, which used hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, Blue Moon will be fueled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen using a new system to keep the liquids supercooled so they don't boil away. The spacecraft can also refuel with a space tanker equipped with solar-powered cryo-coolers.
The Blue Moon will then land near the lunar South Pole where the crew will spend a week exploring before returning to Gateway.
"Having two distinct lunar lander designs, with different approaches to how they meet NASA's mission needs, provides more robustness and ensures a regular cadence of Moon landings," said Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager, Human Landing System Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "This competitive approach drives innovation, brings down costs, and invests in commercial capabilities to grow the business opportunities that can serve other customers and foster a lunar economy."