Blue Origin secures NASA contract for lunar development

Writer Samira Joineau
blue origin nasa mission to the moon
© Blue Origin – A rendering of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander that will return astronauts to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

NASA has recently announced the awarding of a NextSTEP-2 Appendix P Sustaining Lunar Development (SLD) contract to Bezos’ Blue Origin, further solidifying the company’s role in the future of space exploration.

As part of this $3.4 dollar-contract, Blue Origin and its esteemed National Team partners, including Lockheed Martin, Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic, and Honeybee Robotics, will collaborate to develop and deploy advanced technologies aimed at facilitating sustained lunar development.

“Honored to be on this journey with NASA to land astronauts on the Moon — this time to stay” – Jeff Bezos

The primary focus of the contract involves the creation of two key vehicles: a lunar lander capable of executing precise landings on any surface of the Moon, and a cislunar transporter. Both vehicles will be powered by a combination of liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2), commonly known as LOX-LH2. 

The decision to utilize LOX-LH2 stems from its high-specific impulse, which provides a significant advantage for high-energy deep space missions. However, the volatile nature of LOX-LH2 and its tendency to boil off during extended mission durations have led previous missions to rely on less performant yet more easily storable propellants like hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, as seen in the Apollo lunar landers.

Under the SLD contract, Blue Origin and its partners aim to push the boundaries of propellant technology by transforming high-performance LOX-LH2 into a storable propellant combination. This groundbreaking advancement will be made possible through the development and deployment of solar-powered 20-degree Kelvin cryocoolers and other cutting-edge technologies capable of preventing LOX-LH2 boil-off. 

The successful achievement of this objective will not only revolutionize lunar missions but will also have far-reaching implications for future space exploration endeavors beyond the Moon. This breakthrough will also pave the way for the utilization of high-performance nuclear thermal propulsion and other enabling capabilities.

Besides, Blue Origin’s innovative architecture for lunar development takes into account the potential utilization of lunar ice as a resource for manufacturing LOX and LH2 propellants directly on the Moon. By preparing for this future prospect, Blue Origin and its partners demonstrate a forward-thinking approach that embraces the utilization of available resources in space, reducing dependence on Earth for propellant supply and enabling sustainable and self-sufficient space exploration.

“Together, we’ll be solving the boil-off problem and making LOX-LH2 a storable propellant combination, pushing forward the state of the art for all deep space missions” – Jeff Bezos

Excitement surrounds the collaboration between Blue Origin, its National Team partners, and NASA, as they embark on this remarkable journey toward sustained lunar development. With work already underway, the collective expertise and dedication of these entities hold the promise of significant advancements in both lunar landers and propellant technologies.

As the next chapter of space exploration unfolds, Blue Origin’s involvement through the SLD contract signifies a key milestone in humanity’s quest to expand its presence beyond Earth and venture deeper into the cosmos.