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NASA is collaborating with Blue Origin to build a spacecraft for the Moon mission


A team led by Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin has won a needed NASA contract to build a spacecraft that will send astronauts to and from the lunar surface, the head of NASA announced Friday, capping a high-stakes competition.

NASA’s decision will give the agency a second trip to the moon under the Artemis programme, after Elon Musk awarded SpaceX $3 billion (nearly Rs. 24,850 crores) in 2021 to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

Those initial missions are scheduled to be performed using SpaceX’s Starship system later this decade.

The value of the Blue Origin contract is about $3.4 billion (nearly Rs. 28,150 crores), NASA chief of exploration Jim Frey said, with Blue Origin contributing particularly “north” of that amount, said John Collores, the lander’s chief on NASA. Moon in Blue Origin Inc.

“Honored to be on this flight with @NASA to land astronauts on the moon – this time to stay,” the billionaire Amazon founder Bezos said in a tweet after the announcement.

Blue Origin plans to build the 52-foot (16-meter) Blue Moon probe in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Boeing, spacecraft software company Draper, and robotics company Astrobotic.

Starship’s SpaceX probe is preparing to perform the first landing of an astronaut on the moon under NASA’s Artemis program, sending a pair of astronauts to the lunar surface on each mission. The Blue Moon landing, scheduled for 2029, is also expected to bring two astronauts to the surface.

“Our partnership will only add to this golden age of human spaceflight,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. Having a second lunar lander for the agency’s Artemis mission boosts commercial competition, he added, echoing a trend in recent years of undercutting NASA costs.

Friday’s announcement in Washington was a long-awaited result for Blue Origin, which had been unsuccessful in competing for previous decades. The aerospace company beat out a competing bid from the defense contractor owned by Leidos Dynetics Inc, head of a partnership with Northrop Grumman.

These companies lost out to SpaceX for the 2021 contract, which is part of a preliminary purchase program for the moon landings. Under this program, NASA said it could pick up two companies, but blamed budget constraints for using it solely with SpaceX.

The new contract is a boost for Bezos, who since founding Blue Origin in 2000 has invested billions in the company to compete for high-profile commercial and government space contracts with SpaceX, the dominant force in satellite launches and human spaceflight.

After losing in 2021, Blue Origin fought unsuccessfully to overturn NASA’s decision to discard the Blue Moon lander, first with a monitoring agency and then in court.

Blue Origin and lawmakers have pressured NASA to award a second moon landing contract to boost commercial competition and ensure the agency has a back-up trip to the moon. NASA announced in early 2022 a second landing contract program.

Kolores, who will lead Blue Origin’s development of the lunar lander, said Friday’s award was a very difficult result.

“We’ve been working for some time now, and we’re still ready to go,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.