NASA has selected a Blue Origin-led team to develop a second lunar landing system for the Artemis program as the agency looks to compete with SpaceX and support long-term lunar exploration.
The winning team includes Lockheed Martin, draper, Boeing, Astrobot And Honey bee Rabotics.
The award includes an unmanned demonstration landing and a manned demonstration landing. NASA wants to use this vehicle and Starship to transport astronauts between the lunar surface and an underdeveloped space station it calls “Gateway” to allow for a permanent human presence on the moon.
Under this award, the Blue Origin-led team will develop the landing system for the Artemis V mission, currently scheduled to launch no earlier than September 2029. SpaceX’s two missions are planned for Artemis III and Artemis IV.
NASA selected SpaceX to develop a Starship human landing system in April 2021 at a cost of approximately $2.9 billion. It was remarkable at the time that the agency selected only one supplier for the job — so remarkable, in fact, that competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics protested to a major government watchdog over the decision. Those protests were rejected.
However, pressure on the agency to select a second supplier mounted from other sources – the notable Congress – and last March NASA announced it would open competition for a second landing system. For that reason, SpaceX was not eligible to compete for this contract. However, it and this team are eligible to compete for future crewed missions to the moon beyond Artemis V.
NASA’s Artemis program is incredibly ambitious. The agency wants to maintain a cadence of about one mission per month, with astronauts staying on the moon for up to 30 days at a time.
“A second lander and another, different lander will ensure that we have the hardware necessary for a series of missions to carry out the science and technology development on the surface of the moon,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson during a press conference.