Space squad: Blue Origin partners with legacy NASA contractors for moon landing system

Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Draper, Blue Origin to develop human lander

A rendering of Blue Origin's Blue Moon lander. The company is partnering with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to develop a human moon landing system. (Image: Blue Origin)

With 2024 quickly approaching, new space startup Blue Origin is teaming up with legacy NASA and Apollo 11 contractors to develop and build a landing system that will return humans to the moon.

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin announced Tuesday it has formed a national team with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to develop a system to land astronauts on the lunar surface in time to meet NASA's five-year goal.

The multicompany approach puts Blue Origin's team in the ring to compete for major contracts under NASA's Artemis program. Artemis will require the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion spacecraft and a Lunar Gateway that astronauts will use to shuttle back and forth from the lunar surface on a moon lander.

In September, NASA sought proposals for human lunar landing systems from American companies. NASA will award multiple contracts to develop and demonstrate a human landing system. The first company to complete its lander will carry astronauts to the surface in 2024, and the second company will land in 2025, according to the space agency.

According to Blue Origin, the national team is preparing to offer up its system to return Americans to the moon by 2024.

"National challenges call for a national response. We are humbled and inspired to lead this deeply committed team that will land NASA astronauts on the moon," Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said. "Combining our partners' heritage with our advance work on the Blue Moon lunar lander and its BE-7 engine, our team is looking forward to working with NASA in support of the Artemis program."

While Bezos' company will lead this all-star engineering squad, each company will contribute a different element.

Blue Origin will provide the descent element, based on its Blue Moon lunar lander and BE-7 engine, for the human landing system.

Lockheed Martin will develop the reusable Ascent Element vehicle and leads crewed flight operations and training. The company already has a heavy role in returning astronauts to the moon. NASA astronauts will travel to the Lunar Gateway via the Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft.

Northrop Grumman will provide the Transfer Element vehicle that brings the landing system down toward the moon.

Draper will contribute the descent guidance and flight avionics.

"When the nation needs precision guidance, it calls on Draper," Draper CEO Kaigham J. Gabriel said. "We guided Apollo to the moon and back nearly 50 years ago. We're ready to do it again with the Blue Origin team for Artemis."

It's notable that Blue Origin is leading a team of U.S. companies with successful ties to NASA's first human moon missions under the Apollo program and big contracts as part of the Artemis program.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced in August Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will oversee most of the human landing system, led by veteran engineer Lisa Watson-Morgan.

Marshall will work with private U.S. “companies to rapidly develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system that can launch to the Gateway, pick up astronauts and ferry them between the Gateway and the surface of the Moon,” NASA said in a news release.