NASA has signed contracts totaling $967 million with three private companies to develop a lunar lander for US astronauts to return to the moon by 2024, NASA announced Today.
SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, Blue Origin owned by Jeff Bezos, and PowerTrain won the bid. Boeing, which previously played a major role in almost all of NASA’s manned space programs, was not included.
Under the contract, the three companies have 10 months to refine their lunar lander designs, allowing NASA to choose which company will perform subsequent demonstration missions. After all the demonstration missions are completed, NASA will purchase commercial space transportation services to land on the lunar surface.
Blue Origin, which designed the Blue Moon lander most similar to the one used in the Apollo missions, received the largest order of the three, with a $597 million contract. The three-stage lander has a huge descent stage, which slows down as the lander descends from orbit to the lunar surface, and it also ACTS as a launch pad to bring astronauts back into orbit. The Blue Moon lander was launched by a Blue Origin New Glen Rocket and a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket.
Powertrain, under a $253 million contract, designed a single module lander with both ascent and descent capabilities, descent to the moon and ascent back into orbit. Because the lander capsule is so close to the moon’s surface, astronauts can step on it by walking down a few steps. Powertrain’s lunar lander will also be launched on vulcan rockets.
Musk’s $135 million SpaceX contract to develop a “starship” lander so high that astronauts would need an elevator to set foot on the moon’s surface. Spacex, which is about to launch NASA’s first manned mission in May, will also develop a starship landing system that will land a crew and 45 kilograms of cargo on the moon. SpaceX will use its own Super Heavy rocket to launch starships, fully reusable spacecraft it is developing for orbital, lunar and Mars missions.