Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has been awarded a $7 billion contract to develop a crewed lunar lander that will transport people to the moon by 2028. The contract was awarded by NASA after a similar contract was signed with Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2021. The NASA contract with Blue Origin is for an Artemis V lunar mission – the third of NASA’s program to put humans on the lunar surface.
Although the SpaceX contract was signed for $2.9 billion, the latest contract with Blue Origin effectively makes both space companies competitors. With the Blue Origin contract worth $7 billion, NASA actually released $3.4 billion while Blue Origin agreed to contribute the rest to the success of the program. John Couluris, the company’s vice president for lunar transportation, stated that “Blue Origin is contributing well north of $3.4 billion as part of this effort.”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also agreed. “We want to establish permanence on the moon, and we want to ensure that we have consistent access to the moon,” he said. “So with that in mind, Blue Origin itself is contributing over 50% of the total effort to get to not only this mission but to ensure permanence.”
SpaceX is planning on launching its iconic Starship spacecraft by 2025 under its Artemis III mission contract with NASA. But Blue Origin will be deploying a lunar lander that will hitch a ride on a rocket to land on the moon – similar to the ones used for Apollo missions. Starship on the other hand is a full-option system that is both a rocket and a spacecraft that works independently for potential missions to the moon.
NASA’s Artemis lunar lander project is dubbed Human Landing System (HLS) since it is geared at putting people on the lunar surface. When NASA first awarded the contract to SpaceX in 2021, Blue Origin sued the federal space agency for being biased. NASA argued that it has always been its plan to award separate contracts to many space companies to take people to the moon, but funding is a problem. Ultimately, a judge quashed the case and Blue Origin lost.
With both SpaceX and Blue Origin awarded the contracts now, they will be expected to run test flights or test missions before they attempt to operate crewed missions to the lunar surface.