WASHINGTON, D.C.: Offering NASA a second option for sending astronauts to the moon, a team led by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin has won a coveted $3.4 billion NASA contract to build a spacecraft to fly astronauts to and from the moon's surface.
Blue Origin plans to build its 52-foot tall Blue Moon lander in partnership with Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, software firm Draper and robotics firm Astrobotic. NASA picked Blue Origin over a rival bid led by Leidos Inc-owned defense contractor Dynetics, which also included Northrop Grumman Corp.
NASA awarded fellow billionaire Musk's SpaceX $3 billion in 2021 to build its Starship spacecraft to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since the final Apollo mission in 1972.
"I've said it before: we want more competition, we want two landers, and that's better," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at an event announcing the contract at NASA's headquarters. "It means that you have reliability, you have backups."
The contract follows NASA's trend in recent years in which it helps fund development of private astronaut spacecraft, then pays to use the craft in missions, rather than spending more to own the vehicle entirely.
"Honored to be on this journey with @NASA to land astronauts on the Moon - this time to stay," Amazon.com billionaire founder Bezos said on Twitter after the announcement.
NASA said in a contract document that it picked Blue Origin's proposal for its lower price, extra lander capabilities and a plan to execute two test landing missions on the moon in 2024 and 2025 at the company's expense. However, NASA expressed concern about "numerous conflicts and omissions" in Blue Origin's proposed schedule and development deadlines.