The moon seen from the International Space Station on July 9, 2018.
Alexander Gerst | Nasa
WASHINGTON — Jeff Bezos has his ticket to the moon from NASA.
The billionaire space company, Blue Origin, won a key contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Friday to develop a crewed lunar lander to deliver astronauts to the surface of the moon later this decade as part of the Artemis program of the agency.
The effort is effectively a $7 billion+ project. NASA’s contract award is worth just over $3.4 billion, officials said Friday, and Blue Origin vice president John Couluris said the company would also contribute “well up north.” of the value of the contract.
“We are making an additional investment in infrastructure that will pave the way for the first humans to land on Mars,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in announcing the Blue Origin award. “Our common ambitions are no lower than when President [John F.] Kennedy challenged a generation of dreamers to travel to the moon.”
Artist’s rendering of the lunar lander.
Bezos said in a tweet friday he is “honored to be on this journey with @NASA to land astronauts on the Moon – this time to stay.”
The team led by Blue Origin, which includes Lockheed Martin, BoeingDraper, Astrobotic, and Honeybee Robotics — dominated the proposal from a team led by Leidosowned by Dynetics.
Leidos, in a statement to CNBC, said “helping NASA in its inspiring efforts to return to the Moon will remain a priority.” The company highlighted its existing and ongoing work on NASA systems and said the team was “committed to continuing to assist with these critical missions.”
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NASA received two additional proposals for the SLD contract, but neither was deemed “fully compliant with the requirements of the solicitation” and was therefore quickly discarded, wrote Jim Free, NASA Associate Administrator for the Division of exploration of the agency, in documents released Friday.
Known as the Sustaining Lunar Development, or SLD, program, the competition was essentially a second-chance competition held by NASA after Elon Musk’s SpaceX was the sole winner of the first crew lander contract in 2021. .
That first program, called the Human Landing System, or HLS, gave SpaceX a contract to develop a variant of its Starship rocket for Artemis missions. Prior to the HLS award, NASA had to pick two winners, but the agency’s budget at the time and SpaceX’s more affordable bid meant there was only one winner.
Both HLS and SLD are part of NASA’s Artemis program to land astronauts on the moon, with the agency hoping to begin flying crew on the lunar surface within the next few years. In December, NASA completed the first Artemis mission, which had no one on board, flying its Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket and Orion spacecraft around the moon for the first time.
Free, in explaining NASA’s selection, wrote that Blue Origin’s plan had “compelling” strengths such as two uncrewed reconnaissance missions in 2024 and 2025, early-stage technology maturation, excess lander itself and a “reasonable and balanced” price. He mentioned only two weaknesses in Blue Origin’s offer, noting a problem with its in-flight communication plan as well as “numerous conflicts and omissions” in the company’s schedule.
Regarding Dynetics, the strengths put forward by Free were not enough to compensate for the parts of its plan that were “uncertain” and “confusing”, he said. The company’s price, which NASA did not disclose, was also “significantly higher” than Blue Origin, Free wrote.
A messy saga
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, left, and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and Blue Origin.
Last year, Nelson explained the reasoning behind a second bidding process to add another privately built lunar lander, saying, “Competition is critical to our success.”
“We can leverage that money by working with commercial industry and through competition lower those costs at NASA,” Nelson said. during testimony in the Senate in 2022.
Meanwhile, SpaceX has continued to develop its nearly 400-foot-tall Starship rocket. In April, the company attempted to reach space with the vehicle for the first time, but it exploded in midair. Recently, Musk estimated that SpaceX will spend around $2 billion developing Starship this year and said he expects the company to reach orbit around Earth on its next launch.
Last year, NASA gave SpaceX an additional $1.15 billion reward under the HLS contract, exercising an option to purchase a second crewed demonstration landing from the company. This brought the total value of SpaceX’s HLS contract to $4.2 billion through 2027.
To date, NASA has paid about $1.8 billion to SpaceX as part of HLS, according to federal records.