The next time astronauts land on the moon, they will ride to the lunar surface in a spacecraft that looks a lot different than the Apollo-era landing module last used in 1972. Lander concepts proposed by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics — which won a combined $967 million in NASA funding Thursday — take wildly different approaches to carrying crews to the moon.
Blue Origin has partnered with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to build elements of the company’s human-rated lunar lander, and Draper will lead development of the lander’s avionics and guidance systems, with an aim to be ready to land a crew on the moon by 2024, company founder Jeff Bezos announced Tuesday.
Within days, NASA is expected to select a winner from a roster of nine eligible companies to try and become the first commercial entity to accomplish a soft landing on the moon with a robotic spacecraft. The privately-developed probe would be the vanguard in a series of unpiloted missions intended to deliver science instruments to the lunar surface and prepare for a human expedition as soon as 2024.
NASA announced Thursday nine companies that will be eligible to compete for up to $2.6 billion in contracts over the next decade to ferry scientific instruments and tech demo payloads to the moon aboard commercial robotic landers, a first step in what agency officials said will foster expanded private investment in deep space exploration and an eventual return of humans to the lunar surface.