It’s not just SpaceX. NASA has chosen a second transport system to land on the moon. It will be that of Blue Origin, which this time has won, after being rejected two years ago. Blue Moon, this is the name of the lander, will make its debut in 2029 with the Artemis V mission, the third to bring astronauts back to the surface. The American Space Agency has announced the result of the selection for a “sustainable” vehicle, which will have to shuttle between the space base in lunar orbit that will be built in the next few years, and the surface. “Two years ago we announced the first lander to bring humanity back to the Moon – said the NASA administrator announcing the winner – now we are here to keep a promise”. Is to acquire a vehicle for missions of up to 30 days on the Moon. After the success of the first space tourism flights, jumps of just 100 kilometers, Bezos is therefore aiming for the Moon.
Billionaire contract and investment
Blue origin is the head of the “National team”, made up of American giants of space and smaller companies: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, the space software company Draper, Astrobotic, specialized in robots and landers for exploration and Honeybee Robotics . A contract worth $3.5 billion to which Blue Origin has said it will add even more investment. He won against Dynetics’ proposal. The contract is worth approximately $3.5 billion, revealed Jim Free, associate administrator of the Exploration systems development mission directorate, and Blue Origin vice president John Couluris added that the company will invest an even greater sum. The total exceeds seven billion. Just like Starship, however, Blue Moon will have to prove its reliability. For this reason, tests are awaited in view of its use, one of which, a year before Artemis V, will consist in the launch and descent on the Moon, without a crew
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Up and down, to and from the Moon
After opting for SpaceX’s Starship as the main system to bring a crew back to explore our satellite’s seas and craters, NASA has in fact launched a competition for a second lander, to be used when the Artemis program is already at an advanced stage. Artemis III, scheduled for 2024, plans to return humanity to the Moon, the lander for Artemis IV will still be a specimen of Starship modified to meet the requirements imposed by NASA. At the take-off of Artemis V (still expected in 2029) there must already be the Lunar Gateway as an orbiting base, to which the new Blue Origin lander will have to dock. From there, up to four astronauts will be able to descend for activities on the Moon and return after a few days. The idea behind it is very different from the concept behind SpaceX’s Starship. The concept, form and function, is more reminiscent of a system like that of the Apollo. Much smaller than the SpaceX vehicle, it will mainly serve as an “elevator” between the Moon and orbit. And as a habitat, for a week’s stay but “with the ability to stay up to 30 days,” said Free.
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Blue Moon has thin legs and a design that is certainly not aerodynamic (and this is precisely the point) compared to Starship. Unlike what is effectively a spaceship, the lander is not designed to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, but as a service vehicle that can be reused many times, always on site. It is the main criterion for “sustainability” requested by NASA in this second call. He will have a life with less trauma, certainly, and less need for checks and maintenance. Above all: you won’t have to bring it back, put it back on top of a rocket and launch it every time, as happens with SpaceX (which however has enormous load capacities: 100 tons up to the Moon). Indeed, once the mission is over, the crew will return home departing from the Gateway with the Orion capsule, the same one used to take off from Earth. The Gateway, which will be built together with the European Space Agency, the Japanese one, Jaxa, and the Canadian one, will be the docking port, the key infrastructure, collector of activities and “traffic” in this first recovery of lunar exploration .
The consortia that had officially declared that they were in the running for this assignment are, in fact, the “National team” of Blue Origin and the one led by Dynetics, which among the subcontractors also has Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), whose pressurized modules, which took shape in Turin, already make up a good part of the International Space Station.
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The two teams had already participated in the first selection, the one with which NASA, in April 2021, chose the shuttle to bring humans back to the Moon, in this case the first woman and the first black person. However, SpaceX had won, with a queue of appeals from Blue Origin. But soon after a new opportunity opened up, with a series of contracts awarded already in September of that year, separately, to five companies, for the development of a human landing system (HLS) and a total invested from NASA of 146 million dollars. Now the last skimming has decreed the winner.