Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is also the founder of space company Blue Origin has created a national team for landing astronauts back on the Moon for the Artemis program by NASA.
According to the team setup, Bezos’s space company would be the prime contractor. It would also include other private space firms Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper, according to a report by Quartz.
Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) held in Washington DC, the world’s richest person said, “We’re not going back to the moon to visit, we’re going back to the moon to stay.”
Space agencies across the world are uniting to return humans to the Moon for exploring recently detected resources such as water, find out about the solar system’s history and fetch new astronomical data from the far side of the Moon.
Now, the Artemis lunar program by NASA aims to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon and the US space agency will hire private space companies for building the spacecraft which is going to carry them there. The space agency is also working on a mission to create a planned space station dubbed as the Gateway that would be placed in the Moon’s orbit and is going to work as a hosting ground for future landing missions.
Earlier this year in May, Bezos had unveiled the design of Blue Origin’s Moon lander and had also claimed the Artemis program to be a wise priority by NASA for the exploration of space. The lander’s design was to compete with those from Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The latter two companies are already working on their projects Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsules respectively.
While having Lockheed Martin in its team will be of great advantage for Blue Origin’s bid, it is still not very clear if the US space agency is going to have a sufficient budget to meet the US government’s 2024 target.
According to the Quartz report, The unfinished spending plans of the US Congress for next year presently funds only about 40 per cent of NASA’s downpayment requested for its Artemis program. And the space agency will only be able to determine the cost of the entire program by next year.
Bezos and a few other top tech billionaires feel that the space business could be the next big opportunity for technology, provided the cost of getting to orbit comes down enough for incentivising internet-style entrepreneurship.
“You cannot start an important space company in your dorm room today, the reason that is impossible is the price of admission is too high. We need more of the infrastructure to be deployed,” the report said quoting Bezos.
Both Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk feel that reusable rockets are the key to this problem, however, they differ in their strategies. While SpaceX insists on fixed-price contracts, competition, and performing tests in public, Blue Origin, on the other hand, is more secretive and is willing to partner with traditional space companies such as United Launch Alliance or Lockheed.
Musk’s space company is keeping its hopes on its Starship and Super Heavy Booster which according to the SpaceX CEO will be capable enough of flying directly to the Moon or Mars. “We want to land it on the moon by 2022,” the Quartz reported quoting SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.
While Blue Origin has positioned itself at the centre of NASA’s lunar plans, it also brings risks of bureaucratic delays and changing space policies in the US. Blue Origin becoming a team leader is also signaling a change in the US space industry.
“We felt that such an ambitious mission called for a new approach and a team effort,” Lockheed Martin spokesperson Gary Napier told Quartz. “With the recent NASA award to produce six more Orion spacecraft missions, Lockheed Martin can leverage Orion technology, experience and supply chain to provide the safest Crew Module for Artemis.”
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