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SpaceX, Blue Origin awarded NASA contracts to develop moon lander concepts for future Artemis missions

·2-min read

NASA has awarded a combined $146 million in contracts to five companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics, to develop lander concepts as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

The awards include $26.5 million to Blue Origin; $40.8 million to Dynetics; $35.2 million to Lockheed Martin; $34.8 million to Northrop Grumman; and $9.4 million to SpaceX. Only two companies that submitted proposals, Blue Ridge Nebula Starlines and Cook & Chevalier Enterprises, did not receive contracts.

The contracts were awarded under NextSTEP-2 (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships) Appendix N: Sustainable Human Landing System Studies and Risk Reduction. The solicitation, released at the beginning of July, says the objective of the contract is “to engage with potential commercial partners for concept studies, sustaining HLS concept of operations (ground and flight) development, and risk reduction activities.”

What that means in practice is that the selected companies will develop lander design concepts, including conducting component tests, and evaluate them for things like performance and safety.

These awards are separate from the Human Landing System contract that was given to SpaceX earlier this year -- the one that both Blue Origin and Dynetics disputed to a government watchdog, and that Blue Origin later opposed in a lawsuit against NASA that’s still ongoing.

However, the outcome of this batch of awards will likely inform future lander development contracts through the rest of the decade. “The work from these companies will ultimately help shape the strategy and requirements for a future NASA’s solicitation to provide regular astronaut transportation from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon,” the agency said in a statement.

Blue Origin's proposal comes from what it calls it's National Team, which includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper (Lockheed and Northrop were also awarded individual, separate contracts under Appendix N).

"Under this contract, the National Team will conduct critical studies and risk reduction activities that will contribute to future sustainable lander concepts," a Blue Origin spokesperson explained to TechCrunch. "We will also work closely with multiple other companies and NASA field centers across the nation on this effort."

The Artemis program was established in 2020 with a number of objectives, not only to return humans to the moon for the first time since the days of Apollo but to make such travel routine by the late 2020s. NASA isn’t just stopping at the moon; the agency also wants to expand into inter-planetary exploration, including human missions to Mars.

"As a key partner to NASA and a positive example of how commercial partnerships can work effectively, Northrop Grumman brings a proven record of accomplishment in human space exploration," Steve Krein, VP of civil and commercial satellites at Northrop Grumman, said in a statement. "We continue to work in partnership with Blue Origin and the National Team to meet NASA’s ambitious goals to return to the Moon and Mars."

The story has been updated to include comments from Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin.

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