Second-in-Line: Blue Origin’s Involvement in NASA’s Artemis Program
Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos, has been designated as the company to construct the next lunar lander for NASA’s Artemis astronauts. This announcement was officially made by NASA officials on May 19. Following SpaceX’s Starship, chosen in 2021, Blue Origin’s moon lander will be the second mechanism to deliver astronauts to the moon’s surface.
The consortium led by Blue Origin secured the second Human Landing System (HLS) contract for the Artemis program, as NASA revealed in a live-streamed declaration from Washington, D.C. This $3.4 billion deal facilitates Blue Origin to offer NASA an additional alternative for astronaut moon landings, supplementing the services provided by SpaceX’s Starship.
Bill Nelson, NASA’s Administrator, expressed during the conference that having an alternative lander is crucial for executing a sequence of moon landings. This facilitates the necessary hardware for science and technology development on the lunar surface.
Moon Landing Blueprint: Insights into the Planned Artemis 5 Mission
Representatives from Blue Origin affirmed that the moon lander, named Blue Moon, would be operational for the planned Artemis 5 mission landing in 2029, following a series of test launches and landings. John Couluris, Blue Origin’s Vice President for Lunar Transportation, emphasized that comprehensive testing of the lander system would be performed a year prior to astronaut boarding.
The Artemis 5 mission envisions the launch of Blue Moon on an unspecified rocket. It will then dock with Gateway, a future NASA-led lunar orbital station. Astronauts will be launched separately on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in an Orion spacecraft. Post-docking with Gateway, a pair of astronauts will transition into Blue Moon for a week-long expedition to the moon’s south pole.
Acknowledging the recent unsuccessful landing attempts by Japan’s ispace and Israel’s SpaceIL, Couluris confirmed that Blue Origin intends to leverage its expansive industry team to ensure the learned lessons are not repeated in the Artemis 5 mission.
Blue Origin’s “SLD National Team” features Lockheed Martin, Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic, and Honeybee Robotics. Lockheed Martin will supply a cislunar transporter to refuel the reusable Blue Moon, which will reside in a “parking orbit” between landing missions to cut costs.
Space Rivalries: The Controversy Surrounding the Artemis Moon Lander Contract
In the conference, NASA officials did not disclose the reasons behind choosing Blue Origin as the winning bid. The bidding for the new HLS contract ended in December, with Northrop Grumman leading the only other consortium, which was a previous collaborator with Blue Origin.
NASA’s decision to solely select SpaceX for an Artemis lander in April 2021 led to discontent among competitors, Blue Origin and Dynetics. Both companies, along with a lawsuit from Blue Origin, delayed the implementation of SpaceX’s contract.
The Senate Appropriations Committee instructed NASA in September 2021 to select a second company to construct a crewed Artemis lander, leading to NASA issuing the new HLS proposal a year later.
The Artemis 3 mission is planned to use SpaceX’s Starship system for lunar landing near the moon’s south pole. Despite several setbacks and delays in the development of Starship, SpaceX is still responsible for landing the Artemis 4 astronauts. The launch of Artemis 3 is anticipated no sooner than 2025.