SpaceX, Blue Origin Start Work on Large Moon Cargo Landers

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Key Takeaways

  • SpaceX and Blue Origin have started work on lunar cargo landers for NASA's Artemis missions.
  • They're expected to be variants of existing human landers.
  • The ships will go into use starting with Artemis VII.

NASA has confirmed that SpaceX and Blue Origin have begun development of large cargo landers for Artemis Moon missions.

The agency said its partners are expected to base their Moon cargo ships on their respective human landers, such as SpaceX’s Starship (pictured above) and Blue Origin’s Blue Moon (below).

Both variants are expected to take up to 33,000lbs. of cargo to the Moon. They won’t have life support systems. Instead, they’ll be modified to interface with and deploy heavy payloads, such as pressurized rovers for the astronauts already on the lunar surface.

Neither Moon cargo lander will be in service until at least the Artemis VII mission, which is poised to deliver the Japanese-made Habitable Mobility Platform rover. It’s tentatively slated to launch in March 2032. The first crewed mission, Artemis III, is expected no earlier than September 2026 and more likely 2027.

Blue Origin Blue Moon lander
Photo by Blue Origin

NASA said it exercised its cargo lander options under existing contracts in November 2023.

The Artemis program is aimed both at returning humans to the Moon and to establishing a permanent presence. This includes an Artemis Base Camp as well as a Gateway space station that will help with trips to Mars and other deep space expeditions.

The flights are symbolic for NASA, which hasn’t landed humans on the Moon since Apollo 17 in December 1972. However, there’s also a competitive aspect. The U.S. is facing pressure from China, which hopes to land taikonauts by 2030. If Artemis arrives first, it could give the U.S. a head start. The Moon cargo deliveries would help cement that lead.

Whether or not things go ahead as planned isn’t clear. There have been multiple delays for Artemis. The human landing was originally set for late 2024, and the success of the adjusted timeline depends on sorting out issues with both Starship and the Orion crew transporter. The most recent delay stemmed from problems with Orion’s life support system.