Nasa says Jeff Bezos will build moon lander for Artemis mission

Nasa has named Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin as the second company to build a lunar lander under its Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the Moon for the firs time in more than 50 years.

The US space agency awarded the first contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2021 in a $3 billion deal that was disputed by Mr Bezos at the time.

Those initial missions using SpaceX’s Starship system are slated for later this decade.

“We want more competition, we want two landers,” Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson said at an event in Washington on Friday. “It means you have reliability, you have backups. It benefits Nasa, it benefits the American people.”

Today’s announcement evokes deja vu for founder Bezos and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, the head of a partnership with Northrop Grumman.

Those companies lost out to SpaceX for the 2021 contract, part of an initial moon lander procurement program. Nasa under that program said it could pick up to two companies, but blamed budget constraints for only going with SpaceX.

The new contract is the biggeset ever deal for Blue Origin, which Mr Bezos founded in 2000. The Amazon founder has invested billions of dollars into the company to compete for high-profile commercial and government space contracts with SpaceX.

After losing in 2021, Blue Origin unsuccessfully fought to overturn Nasa’s decision to ignore its Blue Moon lander, first with a watchdog agency and then in court.

An artist’s concept of a suited Artemis astronaut looking out of a moon lander hatch across the lunar surface (Nasa)
An artist’s concept of a suited Artemis astronaut looking out of a moon lander hatch across the lunar surface (Nasa)

Blue Origin and lawmakers had pressured Nasa to award a second lunar lander contract to promote commercial competition and ensure the agency has a backup ride to the moon. Nasa in early 2022 announced the program for a second lander contract.

Nasa chief Bill Nelson said at the time: “I promised competition, so here it is.”

Blue Origin has already named its corporate partners for the lunar lander: Lockheed Martin , Boeing, spacecraft software firm Draper, and robotics firm Astrobotic.

Northrop Grumman, previously a key partner in Blue Origin’s unsuccessful Blue Moon bid in 2021, switched teams to join its former rival Dynetics.

Nasa’s multi-spacecraft plan for the Artemis moonshots involves its Space Launch System rocket launching astronauts toward the moon aboard the Lockheed-built Orion capsule. That will dock in space with a lunar lander that will ferry the crew the rest of the way to the Moon’s surface.

Additional reporting from agencies