NASA has selected Blue Origin of Kent, Washington to develop a human landing system for Artemis V mission to the Moon. Through Artemis, NASA will explore the Moon more than ever before; uncovering more scientific discoveries and preparing for future astronaut missions to Mars. The Blue Moon lander designed by Blue Origin will meet NASA’s requirements for recurring astronaut expeditions to the lunar surface, including docking with Gateway, which is a space station where crew transfer in lunar orbit. The contract includes one uncrewed demonstration mission to the lunar surface before a crewed demo on the Artemis V mission in 2029 and the total awarded value of the firm-fixed price contract is $3.4 billion.
This incredible announcement from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson highlights the incredible progress that is being made in human space exploration. The partnership between Blue Origin and NASA will make landing on the moon and eventually Mars possible, and shows how valuable partnerships and investments in infrastructure can be. We are entering a golden age of human spaceflight, and this news is an exciting milestone on the journey to space exploration.
The Artemis V mission is an especially ambitious mission for NASA, involving multiple different entities and spacecraft. It will use the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket from NASA to launch four astronauts to lunar orbit aboard the Orion spacecraft. Two of these astronauts will then transfer to Blue Origin’s human landing system for an approximately weeklong trip to the Moon’s South Pole region, where they will conduct science and exploration activities. This mission serves both as a demonstration of NASA’s initial lunar exploration capabilities and as a way of establishing the foundational systems needed to enable more complex and recurring missions in lunar orbit and on the surface.
Adding another human landing system partner to NASA’s Artemis program will bring immense benefits to the program. It will create a healthy competition between providers, reduce costs to taxpayers, and support a regular cadence of lunar landings while further investing in the lunar economy. This will help NASA achieve its goals on and around the Moon in preparation for future astronaut missions to Mars. The contract with Blue Origin to demonstrate on Artemis V a lander that meets sustainable lander requirements, including capabilities for increased crew size, longer mission duration, and delivery of more mass to the Moon, will make sure that the agency has multiple providers available to meet its lunar surface access needs for upcoming Artemis missions. This partnership will undoubtedly take the Artemis program one step closer to its long-term goal of sending astronauts to Mars and beyond.
By supporting the development of innovative Human Landing System (HLS) concepts and designs, NASA is helping to increase access to space and promote the growth of a lunar economy. Through the competitive approach of having two different designs, NASA is driving innovation, reducing costs, and investing in commercial capabilities that benefit all parties involved. Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager of the Human Landing System Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama commented that the dual design approach provides more robustness and helps to ensure a regular cadence of Moon landings. This supports NASA’s mission needs while also growing business opportunities to serve other customers. In essence, supporting industry’s development of HLS concepts and designs is beneficial for all, as it increases access to space and fosters a lunar economy.
In September 2022, NASA issued the solicitation of its second Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships Broad Agency Announcement (Next-STEP2 BAA) as part of the ongoing development of advanced space exploration technologies, capabilities, and concepts. This effort is a major step forward for the Artemis program, which seeks to send astronauts—including the first woman and first person of color—to the Moon to explore for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and as a foundation for crewed missions to Mars. To that end, NASA is developing a number of essential components, including the SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway station, advanced spacewear suits, and human landing systems. All of these will play a critical role in helping humanity safely explore deep space.