June 19, 2024

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NASA awards a lunar lander contract to the Blue Origin SLD crew

NASA awards a lunar lander contract to the Blue Origin SLD crew
  • Blue Origin won a major contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday to develop a manned lunar lander to carry astronauts to the lunar surface later this decade.
  • The effort led by Blue Origin is effectively a $7 billion-plus project.

The moon seen from the International Space Station on July 9, 2018.

Alexander Gerst | NASA

WASHINGTON — Jeff Bezos just got his Moon ticket from NASA.

Billionaire aerospace company Blue Origin won a major contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday to develop a manned lunar lander to deliver astronauts to the lunar surface later this decade under the agency’s Artemis program.

The effort led by Blue Origin is effectively a $7 billion-plus project. The NASA contract is worth just over $3.4 billion, officials said Friday, while Blue Origin vice president John Collores said the company will contribute “significantly” to the contract value as well.

“We are making an additional investment in the infrastructure that will pave the way for the first humans to land on Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in announcing the Blue Origin award. “Our common aspirations are no less attractive now than when President Kennedy dared a generation of dreamers to fly to the moon.”

Bezos said in a Tweet Friday He is “honored to be on this flight with @NASA to land astronauts on the moon – this time to stay.”

The team led by Blue Origin — which includes Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Draper, Astrobotic and Honeybee Robotics — topped the proposal of a team led by Leidos-owned Dainetics. Other proposals were expected, but they likely won’t be revealed until NASA releases documents explaining the selection process.

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The contest, known as the Sustaining Lunar Development (SLD) program, was essentially a second chance contest organized by NASA after the Elon Musk-designed SpaceX program was the sole winner of the first crew landing contract in 2021.

This first program, called the Human Landing System (HLS), awarded SpaceX a nearly $3 billion contract to develop a variant of its Starship rocket for the Artemis missions. Prior to the HLS award, NASA was expected to select two winners, but the agency’s budget at the time and SpaceX’s lowest-cost bid resulted in only one winner.

HLS and SLD are part of NASA’s Artemis program to land astronauts on the moon, and the agency hopes to begin flying crews to the lunar surface within the next few years. In December, NASA completed the first Artemis mission, which had no people on board, and flew a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft around the Moon for the first time.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX (L), and founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos.

Getty Images

Last year, Nelson explained the reasons behind a second bidding process to add another privately built lunar lander, saying, “Competition is critical to our success.”

“We can leverage that money by working with commercial industry and, through competition, bring those costs down to NASA,” Nelson said during Senate testimony in 2022.

SpaceX continued development of the nearly 400-foot Starship rocket in the meantime. In April, the company attempted to reach space with the vehicle for the first time. Recently, Musk estimated that SpaceX will spend about $2 billion on Starship development this year, and expects the company to reach Earth orbit with its next launch.

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Last year, NASA awarded SpaceX an additional $1.15 billion award under the HLS contract, with the exercise of the option to purchase a second crew-landing demonstration from the company. This brought the total value of SpaceX’s HLS contract to $4.2 billion through 2027.

To date, NASA has paid SpaceX about $1.8 billion under the HLS, according to federal records.