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Artist's illustration of astronauts on the Moon. Photo: NASA

NASA today announced three companies — Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Dynetics and Elon Musk's SpaceX — will continue developing their lunar landers designed to bring astronauts to the Moon.

Why it matters: In spite of the coronavirus pandemic, NASA is moving forward with its plans to send humans back to the surface of the Moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis program.

The big picture: These kinds of government contracts are key for space companies hoping to make it through the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Those types of funds could help them stay afloat as other means of financing dry up.

Details: Blue Origin's system also brings together Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper Labs — powerhouses in the space industry — to develop the key components to take astronauts down to the lunar surface.

  • SpaceX will use Starship — a craft currently in development that the company hopes to one day use to send people to places like Mars — to bring crew and cargo from orbit around the Moon to its surface.
  • Dynetics' design hinges on a structure that can both land on and ascend from the surface of the Moon.
  • NASA is awarding a combined total of $967 million to these companies.
“This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program."
— NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement

What's next: The companies will now continue to study and develop their plans over the coming months before NASA starts to make decisions about which landing systems will continue on in the process.

  • "We've got all the pieces we need," NASA's head of human spaceflight Doug Loverro, said during a press call Thursday.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Aug 1, 2020 - Science

NASA astronauts head home after historic spaceflight

The Crew Dragon spacecraft as it leaves the International Space Station. Photo: NASA TV

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are heading back to Earth from the International Space Station aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Why it matters: Behnken and Hurley's return will mark the end of SpaceX's first crewed mission to the station and the first mission in which American astronauts launched from U.S. soil in nine years.

1 hour ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.