NASA is preparing to establish a regular cadence of trips to the Moon under its Artemis program. The American space agency is seeking proposals to start the next phase of its Artemis lunar lander service and is moving quickly despite unresolved protests over SpaceX’s choice to develop a lunar lander.
To help the agency fine-tune its approach, NASA will award contracts of up to $45 million to any company that can develop mature designs and conducts technology and engineering risk-reduction tasks for the human landing system (HLS). The HLS will ferry Artemis astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface and back.
The competition initially featured three private US space companies: SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics, to develop the lunar landing system. In April 2021, NASA selected SpaceX as the sole winner of the Human Landing System (HLS) competition to continue developing the first commercial human lander. But then the two other firms in the race filed protests against the space agency, alleging it gave Elon Musk‘s firm an unfair advantage.
Now, prior to opening the call for commercial space lunar transportation on a recurring basis, NASA is asking U.S. companies to hone HLS concepts and safety measures. The companies will be awarded the under the research and development procurement, known as NextSTEP-2 Appendix N. They will help NASA polish requirements for the future recurring services solicitation, which will secure regular crewed trips from Gateway in lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back.
“We are priming U.S. industry to become reliable service providers in the lunar marketplace,” said Greg Chavers, assistant deputy for Systems Engineering and Integration for human spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Riding on American ingenuity, Artemis astronauts will explore new areas of the Moon, where we will unlock mysteries of the solar system for the benefit of all.“
NASA’s ultimate goal is to enable the safest and lowest cost long-term approach to access the lunar surface and to be just one of the multiple customer purchasing services in the lunar transportation market.
“Landing humans on the Moon – and achieving a resilient presence there – is no small feat. Lunar landers are a major piece needed to set Artemis in motion toward that goal,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations. “We are another step closer to proving, once again, that NASA is a global leader in space exploration. Our presence at the Moon will inspire the next generation of diverse scientists, engineers, and explorers to take even greater leaps.“
The Appendix N Broad Agency Announcement also seeks industry feedback on sustaining HLS requirements, as well as safety and mission assurance, design and construction, and health and medical standards. NASA expects to award HLS Appendix N contracts before the end of the calendar year and then to seek proposals for repeatable HLS services in 2022.