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NASA has awarded Blue Origin, the sub-orbital spaceflight company founded by Jeff Bezos, with a NextSTEP-2 Appendix P Sustaining Lunar Development (SLD) contract. Under the contract, the company will develop a human landing system for NASA’s Artemis V mission to the Moon.
Blue Origin will work with its National Team, which includes Lockheed Martin, Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic and Honeybee Robotics, which the company acquired in January 2022, to develop and fly a lunar lander that can make a precision landing anywhere on the Moon’s surface and a cislunar transporter.
During the Artemis V mission, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will launch four astronauts into lunar orbit aboard the Orion Spacecraft. Once Orion docks, two astronauts will transfer to Blue Origin’s human landing system for a weeklong trip to the Moon’s South Pole region.
“Today we are excited to announce Blue Origin will build a human landing system as NASA’s second provider to deliver Artemis astronauts to the lunar surface,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “We are in a golden age of human spaceflight, which is made possible by NASA’s commercial and international partnerships. Together, we are making an investment in the infrastructure that will pave the way to land the first astronauts on Mars.”
Blue Origin plans to use LOX-LH2, a combination of liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer, to power the lander and transporter. LOX-LH2 will create a high-specific impulse that provides a dramatic advantage for high-energy deep space missions.
Typically, developers have used lower-performing but more easily storable propellants, like hydrazine and nitrogen teroxide, for these kinds of missions due to the problematic boil-off of LOX-LH2 during long mission timelines.
To combat this, Blue Origin hopes to make high-performance LOX-LH2 a storable propellant combination. The company plans to develop and fly solar-powered 20-degree Kelvin cryocoolers and other technologies to prevent LOX-LH2 boil-off.
Blue Origin has high hopes for the role that LOX-LH2 will have in the future of space travel, particularly for future missions beyond the moon. The company also thinks that storable LH2 will benefit enabling capabilities like high-performance nuclear thermal propulsion.
Additionally, Blue Origin is preparing for a future when lunar ice can be used to manufacture LOX and LH2 propellents on the Moon.