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Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin assembling an all-star team to build lunar lander for 2024 mission

Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine (N2e/WikiCommons)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, is moving forward with plans to send its lunar lander to Earth’s rocky neighbor with the help of some major-league aerospace partners.

On Tuesday, the company revealed it is assembling a team with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to build the lander, called Blue Moon. Blue Origin then plans submit a bid to NASA offering the lander up for use in its upcoming Artemis program, a challenging endeavor to return astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024.

“This is a national team for a national priority,” Bezos said at the International Astronautical Congress in Washington, D.C. Blue Origin has a massive rocket factory on the Space Coast where it’s building its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket, with plans to add 90 acres of facilities.

It’s not clear yet where parts of Blue Moon will be built, but under the terms of the agreements, Blue Origin will be the prime contractor on the project. It will lead the management of the program and providing the descent vehicle — a smaller version of the Blue Moon prototype the company unveiled at an event in May. A new Blue Origin engine, called BE-7, will be used to power the lander.

Northrop Grumman will be in charge of providing the transfer vehicle that will position the landing systems in lunar orbit. The company designed, assembled and integrated the lunar module that took astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface in 1969.

Draper, which built the guidance and navigation systems for the Apollo 11 lunar landing, will develop flight avionics and lead the guidance of the descent on Blue Moon.

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, will develop a reusable ascent vehicle that will carry astronauts back up from the surface of the moon. The company also will lead crewed flight operations and training. Lockheed is the prime contractor on Orion, the spacecraft that NASA will use to send astronauts to moon on the Artemis missions atop a still-in-development SLS rocket, built by Boeing.

As part of the ambitious Artemis program, NASA is also developing the Gateway, a lunar space station that will orbit the moon and serve as the jumping-off point for the missions the surface.

The entire program is estimated to cost between $20 billion to $30 billion and is part of an accelerated return to the moon. Originally, NASA planned to take astronauts back to the lunar surface in 2028 — the last moon landing with humans was in 1972. But President Donald Trump moved the landing up to 2024.

“National challenges call for a national response,” said Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith in a statement. “We are humbled and inspired to lead this deeply committed team that will land NASA astronauts on the Moon.”

Boeing has said it also plans to bid on the lunar lander contract. NASA has not yet announced how much it will award in its contract for the lunar lander.


© 2019 The Orlando Sentinel