NASA has awarded Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company a $3.4 billion contract to build landing modules that astronauts will use to return to the surface of the moon.
The contract, announced Friday, will be for a reusable lunar landing stage called Blue Moon. Crewed missions using the module will begin as early as 2029.
NASA is using its Artemis program rockets to restart human exploration of the moon, but it’s having its commercial partners develop the landing craft that will get astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX won the initial contract for lunar landers in 2021. It’s expected to use its Starship spacecraft for the first crewed lunar landing of the program, no earlier than 2025.
Blue Origin sued when NASA first awarded the landing contract, saying the agency should have awarded more than one bid. Lawyers with the Government Accountability Office said the competing bids were significantly more expensive, and that NASA had decided it couldn’t afford more than one contract.
Blue Origin expects to eventually test its lander on the moon without a crew aboard.
NASA’s next Artemis launch, meanwhile, will take an incremental step in proving the program’s spacecraft. It will send four astronauts on a flight to the moon and back in an Orion capsule.
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