Blue Origin and four other companies win millions to keep lunar lander dreams alive

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An artist’s conception shows an astronaut stepping on the lunar surface. (NASA illustration)

Months after losing to SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ blue original The space enterprise and two of its partners will receive a fresh influx of financial support from NASA in a lunar lander project, a follow-up program aimed at enhancing the capabilities of placing astronauts on the Moon.

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Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman aren’t the only companies that share a total of $146 million in fixed-price awards. SpaceX and Dianetics — two rivals on the “National Team” led by Blue Origin in NASA’s previous lunar lander solicitations — will also get pieces of the pie.

subsequent event, Next Step Appendix No., seeks expertise to help NASA shape the strategy and requirements for future solicitation that will focus on establishing routine crew transport from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon.

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This differs from the competitive process that resulted in SpaceX winning a $2.9 billion contract from NASA in April to customize its Starship super-rocket as a lunar landing system. that development program, NextStep Appendix H, covering only the first crewed landing of NASA’s Artemis Moon program, tentatively scheduled for 2024. Appendix N will set the stage for the landings that are expected to follow.

“Establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon through recurring services using lunar landers is a major Artemis goal,” said Kathy Leiders, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations. said in a news release today. “This important step lays the foundation for US leadership to learn more about the Moon and how to live and work in deep space for future missions to the Solar System.”

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Over the next 15 months, Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin and four other companies will be tasked with developing lander design concepts and evaluating what it takes to convert them into sustainable systems. They will also test components and develop technologies to reduce risks to future landers.

The milestone-based payout will be $25.6 million for Blue Origin, $35.2 million for Lockheed Martin, $34.8 million for Northrop Grumman, $40.8 million for Dianetics, and $9.4 million for SpaceX.

When NASA gave SpaceX its sole source award for Appendix H back in April, it said Congress did not provide enough funding to support more than one contractor. Blue Origin opposed NASA’s decision — initially with the Government Accountability Office, and then in federal court.

NASA has closed its work with SpaceX pending a court ruling on a $2.9 billion contract, which is expected in November.

in that First blog posting as NASA administratorOf course, Bill Nelson acknowledged that “that contract is on hold until November 8” but added that the Appendix N awards demonstrate that the wider effort to support commercial lunar landers is still progressing.

“We are prodding the industry to submit our proposals for crewed lunar transportation services on a regular basis next year,” Nelson said. “The services, which call for a lander to take the crew from a gateway in orbit to the lunar surface and back, are expected to begin in the late 2020s.”

In the past, Blue Origin has complained that Appendix N and the solicitation it is expected to comply, known as Lunar Exploration Transportation Services, or LETS, were “underfunded, undefined, [and would] Duplicate the substantial work done under Appendix H.”

It is unclear whether Blue Origin will collaborate with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman on the Appendix N lunar lander concept. However, the fact that NASA is awarding them separate suggests that they will need to come up with different concepts. We’ve contacted Blue Origin and NASA for more information, and we’ll update this report whatever we hear back.

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