NASA has selected Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, to develop a human landing system for the agency’s Artemis V mission to the Moon.
Through Artemis, NASA will explore more of the Moon than ever before, uncovering more scientific discoveries, and preparing for future astronaut missions to Mars.
Blue Origin will design, develop, test, and verify its Blue Moon lander to meet NASA’s human landing system requirements for recurring astronaut expeditions to the lunar surface, including docking with Gateway, a space station where crew transfer in lunar orbit. In addition to design and development work, the contract includes one uncrewed demonstration mission to the lunar surface before a crewed demo on the Artemis V mission in 2029. The total award value of the firm-fixed-price contract is $3.4bn.
Speaking about the contract, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said: “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. 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.”
For the Artemis V mission, NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket will launch four astronauts to lunar orbit aboard the Orion spacecraft. Once Orion docks with Gateway, two astronauts will transfer to Blue Origin’s human landing system for about a weeklong trip to the Moon’s South Pole region where they will conduct science and exploration activities. Artemis V is at the intersection of demonstrating NASA’s initial lunar exploration capabilities and establishing the foundational systems to support recurring complex missions in lunar orbit and on the surface as part of the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.
Adding another human landing system partner to NASA’s Artemis programme will increase competition, reduce costs to taxpayers, support a regular cadence of lunar landings, further invest in the lunar economy, and help NASA achieve its goals on and around the Moon in preparation for future astronaut missions to Mars.
The agency previously contracted SpaceX to demonstrate an initial human landing system for the Artemis III mission. Under that contract, the agency also directed SpaceX to evolve its design to meet the agency’s requirements for sustainable exploration and to demonstrate the lander on Artemis IV. As a result of the contract with Blue Origin to demonstrate on Artemis V a lander that meets these same sustainable lander requirements, including capabilities for increased crew size, longer mission duration, and delivery of more mass to the Moon, multiple providers will be available to compete for future opportunities to fulfil NASA’s lunar surface access needs for Artemis missions.
Lisa Watson-Morgan, Manager, Human Landing System Programme at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, added: “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. 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.”