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Thu, Jun 01, 2023

Blue Origin to Build Artemis V Moon Lander

Once In a Blue Moon

The American astronauts to venture to the moon’s surface during NASA’s planned 2029 Artemis V mission will do so aboard a lunar-lander designed and built by Blue Origin—the Auburn, Washington-based space technology concern founded by Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.

While NASA announced the award of the $3.4-billion Artemis V lunar lander contract on 19 May 2023, the space agency was uncharacteristically reticent vis-à-vis the deal’s specifics. Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander remains under development and it, or an evolution thereof, will likely be the vehicle by which the  Artemis V moonwalkers are conveyed to and from the lunar surface.

In a statement pertaining to the contract, Blue Origin set forth its own contribution to the lander’s design and construction will be “well north” of the contract’s $3.4-billion value.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Draper are among the subcontractors slated to provide components and systems to the Blue Moon vessel.

Artemis V will ostensibly see four astronauts launched moonward by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The crew will travel aboard an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPVC)—a partially-reusable spacecraft comprising a Crew-Module (CM) space-capsule designed by Lockheed-Martin, and a Service-Module (SM) designed by Airbus Defense and Space.

Capable of sustaining a crew of six beyond low Earth orbit for up to 21-days undocked and six-months docked, Orion is operated via a glass-cockpit interface modeled after the EFIS suite intrinsic to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The spacecraft’s primary propulsion is provided by a single Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ10 hypergolic rocket engine. Secondary (maneuvering) propulsion is generated by an Airbus-designed system consisting of eight R-4D-11 engines and six reaction control pods.

Excepting an increased diameter, updated thermal protection, and modern digital processing systems, Orion’s general configuration approximates that of the Apollo-era Command and Service Modules (CSM).

Orion’s exceptional endurance derives largely of the vessel’s reliance upon solar-panels rather than fuel-cells.

The lunar landings salient to NASA’s planned December 20025 Artemis III and September 2028 Artemis IV missions will be made in SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft. Blue Origin—which presented unsuccessful bids for the missions—objected to NASA’s decision to award the contracts to SpaceX, and sued the space agency, alleging it had ignored safety shortfalls inherent the Starship vehicle. A federal court dismissed the claims.

The Artemis V lunar lander contract is a coup of sorts for Blue Origin. While Bezos’s space firm has been awarded NASA contracts for the planned Orbital Reef Low Earth Orbit (LEO) space station and a near-future Mars scientific mission, the company, heretofore, has been boxed out of the lucrative lunar-landing business. In addition to earning Blue Origin sizable cuts of prestige and Artemis cash, the award of the lunar lander contract instantiates NASA’s increasing reliance upon private-sector partners and speaks compellingly to the end of government’s extra-planetary hegemony.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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