Two years after SpaceX awarded Elon Musk a contract to fly astronauts to the lunar surface, NASA announced Friday that it has selected Blue Origin, a competing space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, to build a second lunar lander.
The Blue Origin lander has been selected for the Artemis 5 mission, currently scheduled for 2029. The company will first have to prove it can land safely on the lunar surface without a crew.
Bezos, the founder and former CEO of Amazon, said on Twitter that he was “honored to be on this journey with @NASA to land astronauts on the moon – this time to stay.”
The contract value is $3.4 billion, but John Colouris, vice president in charge of lunar transportation at Blue Origin, said during a news conference that the company will contribute itself “north” of that amount to the vehicle’s development.
The Artemis program marks NASA’s return to the Moon after more than 50 years and consists of several missions, each of increasing complexity.
In 2021, the US agency has chosen SpaceX to build a lander for Artemis 3, the first mission in the series in which actual astronauts set foot on the lunar surface.
The contract value was $2.9 billion, though SpaceX is supplementing that amount with its own funding.
Blue Origin also competed for the first contract, filing an unsuccessful lawsuit against NASA when SpaceX was chosen as the sole lander provider.
The space agency originally intended to offer two contracts, a commonly used practice to guard against the possibility of one failing, but said it was constrained by budgetary concerns.
NASA in 2022 also selected the SpaceX lander for the Artemis 4 mission, but at the same time solicited bids from other companies for the rest of the program.
“We want more competition. We want two landers,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said Friday. “It means you have reliability. You have backups.”
The Blue Origin lander, dubbed Blue Moon, is in development with several partner companies, including Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic, Honeybee Robotics, and Lockheed Martin.
The latter will be responsible for developing a crucial component. Once in lunar orbit, Blue Moon will need to refuel before it can descend and collect astronauts from the lunar surface.
So Lockheed Martin has to develop some kind of shuttle to refuel Blue Moon around the moon.
Blue Origin plans to use the New Glenn rocket, which has never flown before, to launch both the lander and the refueling shuttle.
Both Artemis 4, scheduled for 2028, and Artemis 5 a year later will land on the lunar surface, but first they will pass through a new space station in lunar orbit, called Gateway, which has yet to be built.
Introduction to Mars
The Artemis astronauts will take off aboard NASA’s Orion capsule, propelled to the Moon by the agency’s new SLS massive rocket.
Both items were tested uncrewed when Artemis 1 happened six months ago, and will be tested with crew during Artemis 2.
For Artemis 3, it will send Orion directly to SpaceX’s lander. After that, two astronauts will land on the Moon for about a week, while two more will remain on Orion.
Once their experiments are over, the two adventurers will return in the lander to Orion, which will return the four crew members to Earth.
Then, Orion will be connected to the Gateway space station, and astronauts will pass through it before boarding SpaceX’s spacecraft, Artemis 4, or Blue Origin for Artemis 5.
All of these missions target the moon’s south pole, where there is water in the form of ice.
The SpaceX probe will be a modified version of the Starship spacecraft, currently under development in Texas. The plane exploded during its first major test in April.
The goal of the Artemis program is to learn to live on the Moon, in order to test all the technologies needed for a more dangerous journey: to Mars.
© 2023 AFP
the quote: After SpaceX, NASA Taps Bezos’s Blue Origin to Build a Moon Lander (2023, May 20) Retrieved May 20, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-spacex-nasa-bezos-blue-moon .html
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