Blue Origin Wins NASA Moon Lander Contract

Blue Moon

Credit: Blue Origin

With a team that includes Lockheed Martin and Boeing, Blue Origin succeeded on its second try to win a NASA contract to ferry astronauts to and from lunar orbit and the Moon’s surface.

The effort to develop, test and fly the reusable Blue Moon transport will cost more than $7 billion, with NASA contributing $3.4 billion and Blue Origin footing the rest of the bill.

The award, announced May 19, stems from a September 2022 solicitation known as Appendix P, Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships Broad Agency Announcement, which NASA issued to restore competition to its Human Landing System (HLS) program. 

SpaceX in 2021 won NASA’s first HLS contract. That $2.9 billion award covers two demonstration flights—including the first Moon landing by U.S. astronauts since 1972—using a variant of SpaceX’s reusable Starship transportation system, currently in development. 

NASA last year added $1.15 billion to SpaceX’s contract for another Starship HLS mission, covering transportation to and from lunar orbit and the Moon’s surface through Artemis IV.

Artemis I, an uncrewed flight test of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, was conducted in November 2022. Artemis II, a crewed flight test around the Moon, is targeted for November 2024.

Under the new contract, Blue Origin would pick up astronaut lunar ferry flights for Artemis V, slated for no earlier than 2029, under what NASA calls its Sustaining Lunar Development (SLD) program. Blue Origin’s partners include Lockheed Martin, Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic and Honeybee Robotics.

NASA selected the Blue Origin team over another proposal proffered by Dynetics. 

“Dynetics’ proposal does not provide the same value for NASA due to the increased risk associated with its technical approach and less advantageous management approach and price,” Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, wrote in a separate Selection Statement released on May 19. 

Both Blue Origin and Dynetics submitted proposals for the original HLS work but lost out to SpaceX. Blue Origin’s revised proposal for the SLD program includes a fully reusable, liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX)-powered lander that would be refueled between missions by a Lockheed-provided cislunar transporter. 

The elements would launch separately on Blue Origin’s upcoming New Glenn heavy-lift reusable booster, which features a 23-ft.-dia. payload fairing.

The 52.5-ft.-tall Blue Moon lander has a dry mass of 17.6 tons but weighs more than 50 tons when it is fueled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants. 

Storing and transferring hydrogen in space are among the key technologies being developed for the program. “If you can make hydrogen storable, then you can do a number of things,” Blue Origin HLS Program Manager John Couluris told reporters.

“Under SLD, we will develop and fly solar-powered, 20-deg. Kelvin cryocoolers and the other technologies required to prevent LOX-LH2 boil-off,” Blue Origin added in a statement. “Future missions beyond the Moon, and enabling capabilities—such as high-performance nuclear thermal propulsion—will benefit greatly from storable LH2. 

“Blue Origin’s architecture also prepares for that future day when lunar ice can be used to manufacture LOX and LH2 propellants on the Moon,” the company said. 

Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has pursued NASA backing for lunar landing services since 2017, when the company circulated an unsolicited white paper seeking support for an Amazon-like shipping service to the Moon to deliver experiments, cargo and habitats for future human settlements. 

“Honored to be on this journey with NASA to land astronauts on the Moon—this time to stay,” Bezos wrote on Twitter.

Irene Klotz

Irene Klotz is Senior Space Editor for Aviation Week, based in Cape Canaveral. Before joining Aviation Week in 2017, Irene spent 25 years as a wire service reporter covering human and robotic spaceflight, commercial space, astronomy, science and technology for Reuters and United Press International.