Back in March, NASA announced it would seek to award a contract to purchase a second lunar lander for the Artemis Program. We’re seeing many similar faces return with bids for NASA’s money, including Blue Origin with a revised National Team of other notable aerospace contractors.
Blue Origin hopes to get what it couldn’t last time
Announced alongside a new website page, Blue Origin has submitted a bid for NASA’s Sustaining Lunar Development (SLD) contract. This contract would provide funds for a commerical partner (aka a private company or group of companies) to develop a lander capable of docking with Gateway and bringing crew to and from the Moon’s surface.
If you’re getting a little bit of dejà vu with the National Team branding, that’s because you’re right; this is pretty much a rehash of Blue’s Human Landing System bid minus Northrop Grumman. SpaceX came out victorious with its Starship launch vehicle after a long, drawn-out legal battle with Blue Origin. The SLD National Team, or National Team 2.0, replaces Northrop with Boeing and adds Astrobotic and Honeybee Robotics to the team. A formidable force of talent from the aerospace industry.
Blue Origin’s National Team members for SLD
- Blue Origin
- Lockheed Martin
- Honeybee Robotics
Thanks to some of these companies’ large influence and the endless list of subcontractors each will use, the National Team’s lander will have a presence of some kind in 48 states, sorry Nebraska and North Dakota. This will help push Congress for support as their lander touches more districts. This differs from SpaceX, which builds most of its parts in-house and in only select states like California and Texas.
Let’s see if expanding the team will be the key to winning this contract round; Blue Origin was a favorite last time but lost due to the lack of experience and higher price compared to SpaceX.
Northrop Grumman teams up with Dynetics this time around
Instead of continuing with Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman has decided to move on and join teams with Dynetics, an HLS competition alumnus as well. Dynetic’s design is unique, with a lower-to-the-ground design than either SpaceX or Blue, and has two large bunny ear-like solar panels on top. Its previous iteration of this design included drop-away side fuel tanks but it’s uncertain what changes this new version will bring.
Northrop Grumman has some serious background in building lunar landers. It’s the only company to successfully make one for human use. In 1962 the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation was selected to build all of Apollo’s Lunar Modules, all of which were successful and on Apollo 13, it exceeded its design in serving as the crew’s lifeboat during flight. So while the company is a very different place with different people working there, that legacy is nothing to sniff at.
SpaceX gets a ride with Option B enacted by NASA
While Blue Origin and Dynetics lead their teams, against most likely other bidders, in a fierce competition, SpaceX gets to sit back and relax without the need to go through another smear campaign from Blue. Well, actually, SpaceX is hard at work already building NASA an HLS variant of the company’s Starship vehicle, but NASA wants another one already.
SpaceX’s original contract requested it build one HLS Starship for the first crewed landing on the Artemis 3 mission. Last month, NASA modified that contract to award SpaceX funds to build a second lander for the Artemis 4 mission. This lander will most likely be used for future missions alongside the winner of the new SLD contract.