NASA selects Blue Origin for its second lunar lander, 2029 mission to Moon’s south pole
Five astronauts will ride Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander for the 2029 Artemis V mission to the lunar south pole as part of a $7 billion deal announced May 19.
Under the contract, NASA will contribute nearly $3.5 billion, splitting the cost of the lander development with Blue Origin, owned by online retail magnate Jeff Bezos. It’s the second lunar lander ordered by NASA under budget-friendly terms reached with billionaire-backed commercial firms that have their own lunar ambitions. The first lander, Starship HLS manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is slated to return astronauts to the moon in 2024 during the Artemis III mission. NASA has awarded SpaceX $4 billion for two landing missions, including a landing for the Artemis IV crew. SpaceX hasn’t disclosed the cost of its human landing system, but NASA leaders say it, too, exceeds the contract amount.
“This emphasizes that this public-private partnership to go back to the Moon is working,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
Blue Origin’s lunar lander may be reminiscent of the Apollo-era Lunar Excursion Module in shape, but it is far larger, capable of carrying five or more astronauts to the lunar surface compared to two aboard its 1960s counterpart. It also can haul 60,000 pounds of cargo to the lunar surface, delivering materials to build habitation, scientific equipment and other necessities. It can also lift 40,000 pounds off the Moon, promising to return an unprecedented array of lunar samples to scientists on Earth.
Blue Origin has a team of subcontractors that includes aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Like its Apollo-era forebears, the SpaceX lander is designed to operate without much lunar infrastructure in place. Blue Moon, though, is designed to operate in tandem with the Lunar Gateway, a space station planned to orbit the Moon that’s being built by NASA, Northrop Grumman, Maxar Technologies, and international partners including the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
NASA leaders say they wanted the SpaceX and Blue Origin landers in their inventory to reduce risk that comes with reliance on a single vendor and to ensure a rapid pace of lunar exploration.
“An additional different lander will help ensure we have the hardware necessary for a series of landings to carry out science development on the surface of the Moon,” Nelson said.
NASA envisions annual missions to the Moon, with astronauts spending as much as a month on the lunar surface.
But NASA astronauts may not be the sole customers for the landers. SpaceX has already announced a deal for a lunar flyby aboard its Starship spacecraft financed by Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa.
Blue Origin on its website says its Blue Moon lander could appeal to a variety of customers seeking access to the Moon.
“The service facilitates greater opportunities to conduct science, in-situ resource utilization, infrastructure development, and logistics missions for government, academia, and commercial customers,” the firm said.
Leading Blue Origin’s lander program, John Couluris, said the firm has already spent years researching and designing Blue Moon.
“We have been working very hard for this day and we are ready,” he said.
–Tom Roeder, email@example.com