On Friday, NASA awarded Blue Origin a contract to provide a lunar lander for the Artemis V moon mission scheduled for 2029—two years after they lost a bid to build similar vehicles for the Artemis III and IV missions.
Blue Origin will lead a consortium that also includes Lockheed Martin and Boeing to design and build the lander, with NASA contributing $3.4 billion in funding. According to The New York Times, Blue Origin’s VP for lunar transportation also confirmed their company would also add “well north” of that number for the project.
“We are in a golden age of human spaceflight, which is made possible by NASA’s commercial and international partnerships,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said on Friday. “Together, we are making an investment in the infrastructure that will pave the way to land the first astronauts on Mars.”
Now comes the hard part: Blue Origin will soon begin designing, building, and testing a new lander that meets NASA’s mission requirements, such as the ability to dock with Gateway, a planned space station that will transfer crew into lunar orbit. The contract encompasses both an uncrewed moon landing demo, as well as the crewed Artemis V mission on track for 2029.
In 2021, Blue Origin and another company lost out to SpaceX on a contract to supply vehicles for Artemis III and IV, which both aim to put humans back on the moon’s surface for the first time in over half a century. SpaceX turned in a proposal estimated to cost $2.9 billion, while Blue Origin’s was tallied at $6 billion.
[Related: Watch SpaceX’s giant Starship rocket explode.]
Blue Origin then attempted to sue NASA in federal court over the bidding process, claiming their proposal had been unfairly evaluated. A 76-page report subsequently issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) laid out all the reasons NASA had every legal right to choose a contract with SpaceX, which cost around half as much as Blue Origin’s $6 billion proposal. NASA’s other concerns included the fact that Blue Origin’s proposal vehicle did not reportedly include proper safeguards for landing in the dark. As Business Insider noted at the time, “The GAO contended that NASA was not required to lay out all minute details, and Blue Origin should take into account the conditions on the moon or space itself—which is dark.”
Jeff Bezos’ company eventually lost the legal fight. “Not the decision we wanted,” Bezos tweeted afterwards, adding that he would respect the court’s judgment while wishing “full success for NASA and SpaceX on the contract.” Two years later, however, it appears Blue Origin has properly revised its proposal process—hopefully including plans for landing in the dark.