Blue Origin lands NASA contract for moon mission

Introduction: The Artemis mission

NASA has chosen Blue Origin to construct the lunar lander for the Artemis mission, which aims to land the first woman and person of color on the moon by 2024. The Artemis program seeks to establish a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface and prepare for future missions to Mars. To achieve this, NASA requires a reliable and capable human landing system (HLS) to transport astronauts between lunar orbit and the moon.

Blue Origin lands NASA contract for moon mission

NASA’s decision to award Blue Origin a contract

Initially, NASA selected three companies, namely SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics, to develop HLS proposals in April 2020. However, in April 2021, NASA announced that it would award the contract exclusively to SpaceX due to budget limitations and technical evaluation. This decision faced criticism and sparked protests from the other competitors, who accused NASA of favoring SpaceX and violating procurement rules.

Although the Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied the protests and upheld NASA’s decision in November 2021, NASA decided to reopen the HLS competition to promote competition and innovation. Subsequently, on January 18, 2022, NASA awarded Blue Origin a $2.9 billion contract to develop a second HLS for the Artemis mission, in addition to SpaceX’s Starship.

Blue Origin’s lunar lander

Blue Origin’s lunar lander, named Blue Moon, is a versatile vehicle capable of carrying up to four astronauts and multiple tons of cargo to the lunar surface. It consists of two stages: an ascent element (AE) and a descent element (DE). The AE provides living quarters, life support systems, and propulsion and guidance systems for landing and ascent. The DE supplies fuel and engines for the descent from lunar orbit to the surface.

Designed for reusability and refueling, Blue Moon can land on various terrains and in any lighting condition on the moon. It can also accommodate different payloads and missions, such as deploying rovers, habitats, or scientific instruments. Blue Origin intends to launch Blue Moon using its reusable New Glenn rocket, capable of carrying heavy payloads to orbit.

Challenges and Risks of the lunar landing project

The lunar landing project faces several challenges and risks. One significant challenge is the tight schedule, as NASA aims to land humans on the moon by 2024. Blue Origin has less than three years to design, test, and deliver the HLS, a demanding task for such a complex project.

Budget constraints pose another challenge, as NASA’s funding for the HLS program requires congressional approval, which is not guaranteed. Congress has consistently allocated less funding than requested by NASA, resulting in delayed milestones and reduced requirements. Additionally, NASA faces legal challenges from lawmakers and interest groups who oppose the use of private companies for contracts instead of government-owned systems.

Technical risks also exist, as landing humans on the moon requires precise navigation, communication, and coordination. Malfunctions or errors could lead to catastrophic failures or loss of life. Furthermore, Blue Origin has yet to demonstrate the successful launch and landing of its vehicles. The New Glenn rocket has not been flown, and the Blue Moon lander has only undergone suborbital testing.

Conclusion: The importance and potential benefits of the Artemis mission

Despite these challenges and risks, NASA and Blue Origin are confident in their ability to accomplish the goal of landing humans on the moon by 2024. They believe the Artemis mission holds significant importance and potential benefits for science, exploration, and humanity. By returning to the moon, they aim to gain insights into its origin, evolution, and resources. Establishing a permanent presence on the moon will enable the testing of new technologies and capabilities crucial for future missions to Mars and beyond. Finally, by sending diverse and inclusive crews to the moon, they aspire to inspire a new generation of explorers and innovators.

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