WASHINGTON – NASA Administrator Bill Nelson accompanied fellow agency heads Friday morning to announce Blue Origin was awarded a contract to develop a lunar lander for upcoming Artemis moon missions.
The planned 16-meter-tall Blue Moon human landing system will make it to the moon aboard a Blue Origin New Glenn rocket, initially doing so around a year ahead of Artemis V for testing in the lunar south pole with no one onboard. The Artemis V mission itself is scheduled for 2029.
NASA seeks that Americans and potentially foreign partners — either way, including the first woman to make the over 250,000 mile journey and step foot in the dust — return to the lunar surface with this hardware and stay for prolonged periods of time, partly in preparation for future ventures to Mars.
“This new lander will be built and operated according to NASA’s sustaining lunar lander requirements which, needless to say, when you put astronauts in that environment, those requirements are vigorous,” Nelson said. “Those capabilities include docking with Gateway, the mini what some call ‘Lunar Space Station,’ it includes increased crew capacity, it includes transporting more cargo for science and exploration on the moon’s surface.”
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John Couluris, vice president of Lunar Transportation at Blue Origin, offered details that included his team’s contribution to the project, what he described was some percentage over 50% of a total fixed cost of $3.4 billion.
“Blue Origin will be landing two landers prior to the Mk. 2 lander that will demonstrate single string operations, avionics, BE-7, reaction control system, etcetera to the — right now — south pole of the moon. Then after those two missions, we’ll fly the first uncrewed mission as part of this award and Appendix P, return that to NRHO (near-rectilinear halo orbit) ... and then we’ll launch a new lander that will then carry crew to the surface,” Couluris said. “The first time that crew members will enter the lander will be when it’s docked to Gateway, the crew members will go to Gateway via Orion and then transfer to a lander for operations between NRHO and the lunar surface and then back to Gateway.”
Blue Origin joins SpaceX as a contractor of this same nature, as NASA has already awarded a contract to the California-based company for Artemis-related sustainable lunar lander development. Nelson was clear, however, that Blue Origin and SpaceX would be developing different landers, with SpaceX’s to be used in Artemis III and Artemis IV missions.
“An additional different lander will help ensure that we have the hardware necessary for a series of landings to carry out the science and technology development on the surface of the moon and that what we do on the surface of the moon is in preparation for us to go to Mars. I’ve said it before, we want more competition. We want two landers and that’s better, and it means that you have reliability, you have backups. It benefits NASA, it benefits the American people. These are public private partnerships. It’s the new way that we go to the moon. It helps NASA share the risk, the technical risk and the financial risk, the cost to enable — at the end of the day — mission success,” Nelson said.
Blue Origin is not the only company tasked with developing the new human landing system. More help is coming from Lockheed Martin, Boeing and others.
Lockheed Martin will build a cislunar transporter to provide refueling services from low-Earth orbit to NRHO and the “parking orbit” where the lander will spend much of its time, Draper will develop GNC (guidance, navigation and control) as well as training and simulation, Astrobotic Technology will take care of cargo accommodations, Honeybee Robotics is in charge of cargo offloading capability and Boeing will create the docking systems, according to Couluris.
With Couluris present in a video call, Nelson was joined at NASA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters by Jim Free, associate administrator of NASA HQ’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, and Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager of the Human Landing System Program at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
“We are really excited today to be working with Blue Origin and all of their partners. We definitely have confidence in them and their approach. They have a very exciting architecture with a reusable Blue Origin lander and Lockheed Martin cislunar transporter, as well as lots of other contributions from their other partners,” Watson-Morgan said. “With two lander pathfinder test flights scheduled in the next few years, I really look forward to working with them on how all that testing is going to help contribute to the overall development and our mission success, and our teams will soon perform a kickoff where we get together, we get to dig in deeper to all the details, and the plan, and that will that will get us started on the execution of the Artemis V mission.”
Closer in the future, Nelson said Artemis II is still on schedule for launch in fall 2024.
See the news conference again in the media player below:
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