NASA contracts private companies — SpaceX, Blue Origin, Dynetics — to develop Artemis’ lunar lander- Technology News, Firstpost

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NASA is turning to private industry for the first lunar landings for astronauts in half a century, with three competing and quite contrasting versions.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on Thursday announced the three companies that will develop, build and fly lunar landings, with the goal of returning astronauts to the Moon in 2024 and, finally, Mars.

The companies are SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, led by Elon Musk; Blue Origin in Kent, Washington, founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon; and Dynetics, a Leidos subsidiary in Huntsville, Alabama. In total, contracts for the initial 10-month period total $ 967 million.

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This illustration made available by NASA in April 2020 shows Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Image credit: NASA

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"This is the last piece we need to reach the moon" in 2024, said Bridenstine.

He noted that it will be the first lunar landing since Apollo's last lunar mission in 1972.

In the next 10 months, each company will refine its concept and NASA will decide which landing module to test first. Bridenstine said NASA will go with the company that is most likely to succeed by 2024.

NASA will rely on its own Orion capsules and Space Launch System mega rockets – still in development – to launch astronauts on the Moon.

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The two other companies, Boeing and Vivace, made offers, but were eliminated early on, leaving the three contracts awarded. Blue Origin received more than half the total amount – $ 579 million – more than four times more than SpaceX's $ 135 million. Dynetics was in the middle, with $ 253 million.

The space probe proposed by SpaceX is so high that astronauts use an elevator to get to and from the lunar surface. The Blue Origin version comes with a large ladder, according to artistic representations. The Dynetics landing module is so low that only a few steps are needed, like a porch, a feature that NASA has given high marks for safety and efficiency.

SpaceX is using its own Starship spacecraft – still under development in Texas – and its own rockets. Blue Origin and Dynetics are partnering with several subcontractors, including commercial launch companies.

Going commercial, said Bridenstine, will cut costs while increasing access. It is based on NASA's commercial cargo and crew programs for the International Space Station. Last November, SpaceX and Blue Origin were among the companies that won contracts to deliver cargo to the Moon.

NASA wants Artemis' new moon landing program to be sustainable, unlike Apollo, with multiple missions and multiple locations on the lunar surface. Although only one company will take the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface, the three will participate in the long term, officials noted.

By learning to live and work in another world – the moon – NASA will be better equipped to send astronauts to Mars, said Bridenstine.

In a conference call with reporters, Musk embraced this "potential for an incredibly exciting future in space, with a base on the moon and, ultimately, sending people and having a self-sustaining city on Mars."

Dynetics' vice president of space systems, Kim Doering, said his team is excited not only in 2024, but also in the long-term lunar economy.

And Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, was among those who considered it a historic day. "Going to the moon is the reason we got into this business," he said.

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