NASA selected Blue Origin to develop the second Artemis lunar lander

WASHINGTON — NASA has selected Blue Origin to develop a lunar lander to carry astronauts on Artemis missions beginning at the end of the decade.

At an event at NASA Headquarters May 19, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced that the agency has selected a team led by Blue Origin, with participation from Boeing, Draper, and Lockheed Martin, among others, to develop a lander called Blue Moon that will actually join under development by SpaceX to carry astronauts. The space between the lunar portal and the surface of the moon.

The fixed-price prize is worth $3.4 billion. John Colouris, Blue Origin’s program manager for the effort, said at the briefing that the company plans to invest “north” of that amount to develop the probe.

The contract includes a demonstration of the Artemis 5 landing, currently scheduled for no later than late 2029, as well as an uncrewed test flight of the lander about one year in advance. Artemis 5 will be the third crewed landing in the Artemis campaign to explore the Moon, following the Artemis 3 and 4 missions that will use SpaceX’s Starship.

Blue Origin was one of two bidders, and a team led by Dynetics submitted the other bid. NASA officials at the press conference did not disclose the rationale for choosing Blue Origin over Dynetics, saying it would be issued in a separate source selection statement.

The Blue Moon probe is a revised version of previous designs released by the company. The lander is 16 meters high and is designed to fit into the seven-meter payload structure of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket. 16 metric tons dry mass, and over 45 metric tons when filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants.

Keeping those chilled impulses from boiling over is a key empowering technique for Blue Moon. “This is a great example of the public-private partnership we have with NASA,” Colouris said. The company has been funding “no-boil” technology internally for some time, such as a cryogenic cooler that operates at 20°C.

“We want to make hydrogen a storable fuel,” he said. “If you can make hydrogen storable, you can do a number of things.” This includes extracting hydrogen and oxygen from the moon’s resources, he said, to fuel landers.

Besides the version designed to carry astronauts, Blue Origin plans to release a payload version of the probe. It will be able to deliver up to 20 metric tons to the lunar surface and be able to return to lunar orbit, or 30 metric tons on one-way missions.

Blue Origin is working with Lockheed Martin, which will build a “satellite carrier” spacecraft, carrying a thruster from low-Earth orbit into a near-rectangular halo orbit around the moon where the probe is located. This vehicle will fuel the lander, which is designed to be used on multiple landing missions.

There are several other members of what Blue Origin calls the “National Team” for the lander. Draper will provide guidance, navigation and control systems as well as training and simulation. Astrobotic will handle the cargo berths, Honeybee Robotics will provide the cargo unloading capabilities and Boeing will contribute the docking system.

“We have a strong group of very passionate, very humble but proud people,” Colouris said, including those who worked on the company’s original vehicle proposal. “The feeling is absolutely amazing. I am so proud of this team, across the entire national team.”

Path to choose Blue Moon

NASA announced efforts to sustainably develop the moon in March 2022 to support work on a second lander, to join SpaceX’s Starship, which the agency selected in April 2021 for the Human Landing System (HLS) program. Blue Origin and Dynetics, the two losing bidders in that competition, protested the award to GAO but their protest was dismissed. Blue Origin later sued in the Court of Federal Claims, but lost the case.

NASA has since announced the SLD initiative was an effort to ensure competition in the public HLS effort, addressing concerns raised by some members of Congress. “It promised competition, so here it is,” Nelson said at the time.

SpaceX was excluded from the SLD competition because of the current HLS award, but NASA exercised what it called Option B on that award for a second mission that would demonstrate the greater performance required for SLD. NASA officially exercised this option in November, at a value of $1.15 billion, bringing the total value of SpaceX’s HLS work to more than $4 billion.

After the December 6 deadline for submitting SLD proposals, Blue Origin and Dynetics announced their bidding progress. Blue Origin’s “national team” included Lockheed Martin and Draper, who were part of Blue Origin’s original HLS bid. Northrop Grumman, who had been part of the original Blue Origin bid, instead joined the team led by Dynetics.

Neither Blue Origin nor Dynetics disclosed details about their proposals at the time, though Dynetics released an illustration of the lander that looked similar to its earlier design. Both companies received funding from NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Annex N effort in September 2021 to mature technologies such as the engines for their lander.

Starship and Blue Origin Blue Moon will eventually compete for missions after Artemis 5 under services contracts, a similar arrangement to what NASA uses for cargo and crew missions to the space station. At the announcement, Jim Frye, NASA’s associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, said the agency is just beginning to plan how it will acquire landers for those subsequent missions.

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