¶Blue finally gets its contract. NASA announced its SLD (Sustaining Lunar Development) human landing system (HLS) development contract last Friday. The agency selected Blue Origin as the supplier of the second HLS (despite its combative first HLS contracting process), with the lander’s first use scheduled for Artemis V. This third crewed mission in the program will launch NET 2029 after SpaceX’s Lunar Starship has been operational for some time (first with Artemis III NET 2025 and then an upgraded version launching NET 2028). Blue beat out Dynetics’ proposal based on considerable refinement since the initial HLS proposals, significant internal funding (and therefore a lower bid price), and more technical clarity. The contract will see the heavily-reimagined Blue Moon lander fly to the Moon’s surface on Blue’s dime in both 2024 and 2025 to mature key technologies’ TRLs, before transporting two crew and an unpressurized rover for a week-long stay in 2029. One year prior, the fully integrated, but uncrewed, lander will conduct a shake-down flight as part of this contract—landing on the surface and returning to NRHO where Gateway will have taken up residence. Blue’s 16-meter tall lander will be reusable for multiple missions and require on-orbit fueling for its hydrolox engines—this capability will allow it to perform most lunar mission profiles that NASA has conceived, including mid-latitude landings in addition to the South Pole landing of Artemis V. This fueling component could require as many as three additional New Glenn launches (~15 tons of fuel each) after the lander’s initial launch (itself at 16T dry weight). Blue Moon will cost over $7B to develop, but the fixed price contract bid came in at $3.4B, saving NASA a significant amount with Blue and its “National Team”—consisting of Lockheed Martin (refueling vehicle), Draper (GNC), Astrobotic (cargo systems), Honeybee Robotics (cargo systems), and Boeing (docking)—covering the gap in funding (much like SpaceX’s Starship HLS bid, although SpaceX’s contract is still less than Blue’s). After Artemis V, Blue Origin and SpaceX will compete for landings, although with recent political gridlock around the federal budget, all of these multi-year plans are a bit shaky due to uncertain continued funding.
¶Axiom’s Ax-2. Houston-headquartered Axiom Space sent their second fully commercial ISS crew to orbit on Sunday evening in a Crew Dragon. The mission is comprised of Commander Peggy Whitson (former NASA Chief Astronaut, and at 63, probably the most experienced female astronaut in the world), Pilot John Shoffner (entrepreneur and extreme sports nut), and Mission Specialists Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi from Saudi Arabia (KSA). The team successfully docked and will stay on the station for eight days, conducting over 20 experiments. Whitson, a retired research scientist and two-time ISS commander, is returning to the station for the fourth time, while Rayyanah Barnawi marks the first Saudi woman to travel to space. Ax-2 is the second in a set of four planned crews to be sent to the ISS by Axiom—meanwhile, the company is working on the recently awarded lunar EVA suit contract and a module for the ISS (to launch NET 2025) that will eventually detach and form a free-flying station once the ISS is decommissioned. Ax-2 continues a busy year for US human space flight, which could include up to 4 more crewed missions: Crew-7, Ax-3, Polaris Dawn, and Boeing’s CFT, in addition to the recently launched Crew-6.