In a move that intensifies the competition between space industry titans, NASA has awarded a $3.4 billion contract to Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos. The contract is part of NASA’s Artemis Moon program and involves the development of the second lunar lander, following Elon Musk’s SpaceX securing the contract for the first lander.
Under the fixed-price contract, Blue Origin will be responsible for designing, developing, testing, and verifying its Blue Moon lander to meet NASA’s requirements for crewed missions to the lunar surface. As part of the process, a remotely operated demonstration mission will precede the scheduled crewed Artemis V flight in 2029.
Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager of the Human Landing System Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, highlighted the benefits of having two distinct lunar lander designs, stating that it provides more robustness and ensures a regular cadence of Moon landings. She emphasized that the competitive approach encourages innovation, cost reduction, and investment in commercial capabilities, ultimately fostering a lunar economy and creating business opportunities for other customers.
The Artemis Moon program was initiated by NASA in 2017, and SpaceX was awarded the initial lunar lander contract in April 2021, surpassing Blue Origin’s $5.9 billion proposal with a $2.9 billion bid based on the Starship prototype.
In an attempt to challenge the decision, Blue Origin’s founder, Jeff Bezos, filed a lawsuit against NASA. However, the lawsuit was dismissed in November 2021. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, commented on the legal dispute, urging Bezos to focus more on reaching orbit than engaging in lawsuits, emphasizing that legal action cannot facilitate a journey to the Moon.
Following the dismissal of the lawsuit, NASA seems to have diversified its selection of contractors. The Artemis II capsule, Orion, will be constructed by Lockheed Martin, while Blue Origin, along with Boeing and three other companies, will collaborate on the design and development of the ‘Blue Moon’ lander.
It is worth noting that Blue Origin faced a setback in September 2022 when its New Shepard rocket experienced an explosion shortly after launch. Despite the reusable booster being destroyed, the capsule carrying the NS-23 mission payload was safely recovered. Since then, the company has not conducted any further launches.
The competition between billionaires Bezos and Musk in the race to the Moon showcases the ambition and determination driving the private space exploration sector. With multiple contractors and innovative approaches, NASA aims to foster advancements in space technology and pave the way for future lunar missions while stimulating the growth of commercial space ventures.
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