NASA announced contract awards to five companies for further development of lunar lander concepts for its Artemis Program on Tuesday.
Earlier this year NASA selected SpaceX for their first mission to land on the Moon since Apollo 17. The single selection was not well-received by their competitors; both Blue Origin and Dynetics submitted protests to the Government Accountability Office. The GAO denied the protests which resulted in Blue Origin suing NASA over what they felt was an unjust selection.
The lawsuit is expected to be settled by November 1st. NASA has agreed to a stay on their contract with SpaceX until that date. Details about the suit have been sealed, so we will not know what this lawsuit means for SpaceX’s contract until after the court decides.
New selections for further exploration of the Moon
NASA selected companies to further develop lunar lander concepts for missions after Artemis III—the mission SpaceX will be responsible for landing crew on the Moon. In July, NASA requested proposals for what it is calling Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Appendix N.
This contract will have a similar goal to NASA’s successful Commerical Crew Program. While Boeing has been having some trouble getting operational, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has launched 3 missions for NASA and later today will launch its first private mission to orbit. This selection has the goal to make NASA the customer of several providers of lunar landers, while also bolstering an industry in lunar surface operations.
NASA’s selections are all familiar faces
All five of the selected companies participated in the original Human Landing System (HLS) competition. SpaceX, the previous winner, was awarded the smallest amount of $9.4 million. This makes sense, as the company is expected to receive $2.9 billion from the agency to develop its Starship lunar lander.
Previous contract contenders Blue Origins and Dynetics also received payouts from NASA of $25.6 and $40.8 million, respectively. The two final companies are Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman—members of Blue Origin’s National Team for HLS. In statements to the media, both companies confirmed they would continue to work with Blue Origin while exploring alternative methods for NASA’s lander.
“Establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon through recurring services using lunar landers is a major Artemis goal. This critical step lays the foundation for U.S. leadership in learning more about the Moon and for learning how to live and work in deep space for future missions farther into the solar system.”Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations
The contracts total $146 million and will allow the companies to design and develop their landers and procedures. This process will last over the next 15 months, but NASA has not confirmed whether we will see more missions awarded at that point.
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