In their second attempt, Jeff Bezos and his rocket company NASA won a contract to take astronauts to the moon.

NASA announced on Friday that Mr. Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, had signed a contract to provide a lunar lander for a lunar mission scheduled to launch in 2029. NASA agreed to pay $3.4 billion for the 50-foot flight. A spacecraft named Blue Moon that can carry four astronauts to the surface of the Moon.

The mission, Artemis V, is another critical part of NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon as part of efforts to explore the south polar region. Astronauts must land on the Moon in a vehicle developed by SpaceX for the Artemis III and IV missions.

John Couluris, Blue Origin’s vice president of lunar transportation, said the company’s development efforts contributed “well north” of the price of the NASA contract, and that NASA, not NASA, would absorb any cost increases. In the past, some members of Congress have complained about giving taxpayer money to Blue Origin, given Mr. Bezos’ wealth.

“We want more competition,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Friday at NASA headquarters in Washington. “It means you have credibility. You have backups.”

Lisa Watson-Morgan, human lander program manager at NASA, said the second lander “also helps us with a more diverse industrial base, which will help drive innovation in the future.”

Winning the contract could start a promising recovery year for Blue Origin after a series of delays and setbacks, including the failure of one of its space-bound but not orbiting New Shepard vehicles during a launch carrying experiments. but there are no passengers. Blue Origin has identified the cause and hopes to resume New Shepard flights later this year, involving both space tourists and scientific payloads.

And some of the equipment produced by Blue Origin could finally be used on an orbital mission in the coming months. The company developed engines for the booster stage of the Vulcan rocket developed by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Blue Origin may also provide some public glimpses of the New Glenn, a larger rocket to launch payloads into orbit.

For the lunar landing contract, Blue Origin beat out a second team led by Dynetics, a Huntsville, Ala.-based defense company partnering with other aerospace companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

“The feeling is absolutely fantastic,” Mr Coulouris said. “However, this is step 1. “We have a lot of work to do before we successfully land and bring back the astronauts.”

The Blue Moon lander is designed to fit into the 23-foot-wide diameter of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and will weigh more than 45 metric tons when loaded with propellants.

The lander for Artemis V will first dock at Gateway, a small outpost in lunar orbit. Four astronauts will travel to Gateway in another spacecraft, NASA’s Orion capsule. They will then land on the Blue Moon to stay near the Moon’s south pole for about a week.

After the trip to the moon, the lander will blast off and return to Gateway, and the Orion capsule will return all four astronauts to Earth. The same landing can be used for several missions.

A second Blue Origin spacecraft will be needed to carry liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from Earth to lunar orbit to refuel the Blue Moon’s fuel tanks. Transferring fuels, especially ultracold liquid hydrogen, in the near weightless environment of space is challenging and has yet to be demonstrated on a large scale.

Mr Coulouris said Blue Origin would conduct an unmanned demonstration flight of the aircraft in 2028, a year before it could be used by astronauts.

“We expect to meet NASA’s schedule exactly,” Mr. Coulouris said.

Mr. Coulouris said the lunar lander could also be configured to carry 30 metric tons of cargo instead of passengers to “form the foundation for habitats and other permanent infrastructure” on the lunar surface.

The Artemis V mission was Mr. Bezos’ company’s second bid to land on the moon. In 2021, Blue Origin and Dynetics were disappointed when NASA awarded SpaceX a firm $2.9 billion contract to build a variation of the giant Starship vehicle that would land astronauts on the moon for the first time in more than half a century.

The two companies protested the decision, especially since NASA officials originally intended to award two contracts.

This would parallel NASA’s successful efforts to outsource the transportation of cargo and crew to the International Space Station to private companies. But NASA officials said at the time that they didn’t have enough money in their budget for a second landing. SpaceX’s bid of $2.9 billion was the lowest ever. Blue Origin’s proposed design cost $6 billion, and Dynetics’ proposed design was more expensive.

The Federal Government Accountability Office rejected the two companies’ objections. Blue Origin later sued in federal court and lost again.

Last September, after winning a bigger budget from Congress, NASA announced a competition for a second moon landing. Dynetics and Blue Origin decided to compete again, although there was some confusion between the companies involved in the effort. Northrop Grumman, which was part of Blue Origin’s original bid, moved on to the Dynetics team.

Blue Origin added to Boeing team; Astrobotic, a small Pittsburgh company that develops robotic lunar landers; and Honeybee Robotics, a space technology company that Blue Origin bought last year.

The design of the spacecraft was also changed, fuel transfer in space was added.

But it will not reach the moon for a while.

SpaceX’s original $2.9 billion contract was to provide the lander for the first lunar landing during Artemis III, currently scheduled for late 2025 but likely to slip to 2026 or later. In November, NASA exercised a $1.15 billion option in that contract to also provide a lander for SpaceX’s Artemis IV.

After Artemis V, NASA will be able to choose between SpaceX and Blue Origin designs for subsequent missions.

Eventually, companies and people outside of NASA were also able to purchase Blue Moon attractions. “We have a number of institutions that are interested,” Mr Coulouris said.

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