Blue Origin Announces National Team for Human Lunar Lander

Blue Origin Announces National Team for Human Lunar Lander

Jeff Bezos announced today that Blue Origin is teaming with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman  and Draper Labs on a proposal to NASA to build a human lunar lander for the Artemis program.  Blue Origin will be the prime contractor and provide the descent stage, while the other companies provide ascent and transfer stages and avionics.

Bezos introduced his Blue Moon lunar lander with great fanfare earlier this year and the mockup is prominently on display here at the 2019 International Astronautical Congress in Washington, D.C.  This morning he accepted the first International Astronautical Federation “Excellence in Industry” award on behalf of his company and officially announced the partnering agreement.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announcing the Artemis Human Landing System (HLS) partnership at IAC 2019, October 22, 2019, in a “fireside chat” with Pascale Ehrenfreund, head of the German space agency, DLR. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Moon will be mated to an ascent stage built by Lockheed Martin.  A Northrop Grumman-built transfer vehicle will move them from the Gateway NASA is building in lunar orbit to a lower lunar orbit where they can reach the surface.  Draper will provide the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) systems.

Jeff Bezos with mockup of Blue Moon lunar lander, May 2019. Credit: Blue Origin

In a pre-briefing yesterday, Lockheed Martin’s Lisa Callahan said the reusable ascent stage will leverage technology already developed for Orion.  Similarly, Northrop Grumman’s Frank DeMauro said the transfer vehicle will be derived from its Cygnus spacecraft that delivers cargo to the International Space Station and will serve as basis for the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO, or “mini-hab”) for the Gateway.

With much of the technology already under development the companies are confident they will be ready for a 2024 landing, but declined to provide specifics about the testing program or other details while the competition remains open.

Blue Origin’s Brent Sherwood said the system is designed to “fully exploit” the capabilities of the company’s New Glenn rocket, which is under development, but other rockets also could be used.  He declined to say whether all three spacecraft could be launched together on a New Glenn since they have not revealed what its capability is to lunar distance.

NASA expects to award a contract in January 2020, but that could be in jeopardy if its FY2020 funding is not finalized soon.

NASA is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) until November 21 and how much money it will get for human lunar landers in FY2020 remains unknown until the House and Senate agree on a final Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill.  The House did not provide any of the additional $1.6 billion NASA requested for the Artemis program on May 13.  The Senate has not passed its bill, but the Senate Appropriations Committee provided some, but not all of it.  One area where it did not provide as much as requested is human lunar landers, recommending about half of the request.

How far the agency can get in FY2020 will be determined not only by how much money it gets, but when.  With the Trump Administration’s goal of returning humans to the lunar surface in 2024 getting closer by the hour, any delay could imperil the plan.

Blue Origin’s Brent Sherwood said the main challenges are the speed of procurement and availability of funding, not technology.  The companies themselves are ready to go.

Sherwood, Callahan and DeMauro said their companies are not involved in any other HLS proposals. Draper’s Jennifer Jensen said its participation in this proposal is not exclusive.

 

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