The United States federal space agency NASA has selected Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin to construct a spacecraft that will send astronauts to and from the surface of the moon, winning a contract valued at about $3.4bn.
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“Today we are excited to announce Blue Origin will build a human landing system as NASA’s second provider to deliver Artemis astronauts to the lunar surface,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in the statement.
“We are in a golden age of human spaceflight, which is made possible by NASA’s commercial and international partnerships. Together, we are making an investment in the infrastructure that will pave the way to land the first astronauts on Mars.”
The contract requires Blue Origin to offer a demonstration of an uncrewed mission to the moon, followed by a crewed voyage that would take astronauts to the lunar surface, scheduled for 2029.
We selected @BlueOrigin to develop the human landing system for the #Artemis V mission. This component for deep space transportation will help us in our goal of sending astronauts to the surface of the Moon and returning them home safely: https://t.co/KMq5fUn0ll pic.twitter.com/mpfUjWr6OX
— NASA (@NASA) May 19, 2023
The announcement came as a handful of private companies, such as Elon Musk’s Space X and Bezos’s Blue Origin, pushed for a greater role in space activities and compete for lucrative government contracts.
In April 2021, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.89bn contract to develop a human landing system that would carry two astronauts to the surface of the moon under the Artemis programme.
Blue Origin had been edged out in bids for previous contracts, and Friday’s announcement represented a key milestone for the company.
Blue Origin will build a 16-metre (52-foot) tall lander in coordination with defence contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing, as well as spacecraft software firm Draper and the robotics company Astrobotic. Those companies lost to SpaceX in their 2021 bid, which Blue Origin unsuccessfully tried to have overturned in court.
“Honored to be on this journey with @NASA to land astronauts on the Moon — this time to stay,” Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com, said in a post on Twitter following the announcement.