NASA announces second Artemis lander to compete with SpaceX

As part of its Artemis program, NASA announced plans to fund a second lunar lander alongside SpaceX’s Starship HLS.

On Wednesday March 23, NASA announced plans to contract a second lunar lander for its Artemis Program.  In 2021, SpaceX was chosen to lead NASA’s Human Landing System program (HLS) with a variant of its “Starship” rocket. With this latest announcement from NASA, another company will have the opportunity for the “Sustaining Lunar Development contract” and ultimately compete with SpaceX to send Astronauts to the Moon. NASA says that their parallel approach will provide much-needed redundancy to the Artemis program.

The Wednesday media call was headlined by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who framed the Artemis program as a step towards eventual missions to Mars. “Under Artemis, NASA will carry out a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap for humanity: a crewed mission to Mars.” Administrator Nelson, himself an ex-Senator, made sure to highlight support for Artemis from Congress and President Biden. “Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to carry out a cadence of missions over the next decade. Thank you to the Biden Administration and Congress for their support of this new astronaut lander opportunity, which will ultimately strengthen and increase flexibility for Artemis.” 

In 2021, NASA had previously selected SpaceX to complete a lander for Artemis. The lander was slated for an uncrewed demonstration mission by 2025. Assuming positive performance, SpaceX would then provide its lander for the first crewed moon landing on Artemis III. With NASA’s latest update, the company will also gain a second demonstration mission, along with at least one more crewed landing.

Blue Origin’s “Blue Moon” lander proposal Credit: Blue Origin

Second Chances

The addition of a second contract gives companies like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin a second chance. Blue Origin notoriously appealed NASA’s decision not to select their “Blue Moon” lander for HLS, ultimately resulting in a lawsuit filed against NASA. A federal judge promptly rejected the lawsuit, saying that the lawsuit “had no standing.”  

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