Blue Origin and SpaceX have locked horns ever since NASA had awarded a $2.9 billion lunar contract to the latter – in fact, Jeff Bezos even took NASA to court and challenged its decision. This time, NASA awarded a combined $146 million in contracts to five separate companies, including Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Dynetics, for developing moon lander concepts for future Artemis missions.
What is the Artemis mission? Said to be “the first step in the next era of human exploration,” the mission aims to develop a sustainable presence on the moon as a means of more inter-planetary exploration, namely, missions to Mars.
The five companies are Blue Origin, which gets $26.5 million, SpaceX, which gets $9.4 million, Dynetics, which gets $40.8 million, Northrop Grumman, which gets $34.8 million, and Lockheed Martin, which gets $35.2 million. Blue Ridge Nebula Starlines and Cook & Chevalier Enterprises failed to secure contracts.
While this is separate from the $2.9 billion contract that became a source of contention for Blue Origin, it can be speculated that the latest development is a means to appease Jeff Bezos’ space company and move the matter to a resolution. Blue Origin and Dynetics had argued that NASA should have made multiple awards instead of awarding the entire contract to SpaceX, and NASA countered with the fact that a lesser amount of funding from Congress had prompted its decision.
That was a Human Landing System (HLS) contract, and these contracts were awarded under NextSTEP-2 (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships) Appendix N: Sustainable Human Landing System Studies and Risk Reduction. According to NASA, this contract aims “to engage with potential commercial partners for concept studies, sustaining HLS concept of operations (ground and flight) development, and risk reduction activities.”
In simple terms, the companies will be developing design concepts for landers and evaluating them for things like safety and performance. According to NASA, “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.”