In a move harkening back to the historic era of the 'Space Race,' NASA has ignited a new competition in space exploration. By selecting Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, to develop an Artemis lunar lander, the agency is setting the stage for a captivating competition with Elon Musk's SpaceX, which is actively developing the Starship Human Landing System (HLS). This decision marks a significant plot twist in NASA's Artemis program as the two aerospace companies gear up to compete in the race to develop their landers in time to return humans to the Moon within this decade.
NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion to develop the lunar-optimized Starship HLS back in 2021. The vehicle has been actively undergoing development since. SpaceX is working to be the first to return NASA astronauts to the Moon by 2025 as part of the Artemis III mission. Additionally, SpaceX was awarded a second contract valued at $1.15 billion, directed to evolve its design to meet NASA's requirements for sustainable exploration and to be ready to also perform the Artemis IV mission.
Today, May 19, NASA announced it awarded Blue Origin a $3.4 billion contract to develop a crew lunar lander for its Artemis V mission to the Moon planned for the year 2029. The contract will involve Blue Origin developing and testing its ‘Blue Moon’ lander to meet NASA's requirements for recurring astronaut expeditions to the lunar surface, including docking with Gateway, a future space station that will operate in lunar orbit. “Today we are excited to announce Blue Origin will build a human landing system as NASA’s second provider to deliver Artemis astronauts to the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “We are in a golden age of human spaceflight, which is made possible by NASA’s commercial and international partnerships. Together, we are making an investment in the infrastructure that will pave the way to land the first astronauts on Mars.”
Blue Origin’s selection comes after NASA selected SpaceX as the sole winner of the Artemis HLS contract in 2021. Bezos filed a federal lawsuit against NASA that year to fight for the HLS contract calling the selection “unfair” and requested U.S. Government Accountability Office to review the case. However, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims found nothing unlawful about the selection, NASA’s budget just could not cover the cost for two lunar landers at that time and determined that SpaceX’s HLS proposal was best.
Now, NASA has opted to have more American companies working to support astronaut missions to the Moon. “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, the manager of NASA’s Human Landing System Program. “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,” they stated today.
During the future Artemis V mission, NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit. After docking with Gateway, two astronauts will transfer to Blue Origin's Blue Moon lander for a week-long trip to the Moon's South Pole region. There, they will conduct scientific and exploration activities. The company has multiple years to develop its lander before 2029. SpaceX just has a couple years to achieve sending Starship to orbit and certifying that the stainless-steel spacecraft is safe to transport humans by 2025.
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Featured Image Source: NASA / Blue Origin
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.