NASA Administrator Bill Nelson provided the first Artemis program update under the Biden-Harris Administration during which he discussed the challenges the agency will face to return astronauts to the Moon by the year 2024 that was imposed by the Trump Administration. The agency delayed the first crewed mission to the lunar surface until 'no earlier than 2025'.
The Artemis update comes after Blue Origin lost the Human Landing System (HLS) lawsuit against NASA, over the opportunity to develop a HLS to land astronauts on the Moon. A federal judge upheld NASA’s decision to select SpaceX to develop a lunar-optimized Starship to return astronauts to the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years. "We’re pleased with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims’ thorough evaluation of NASA’s source selection process for the human landing system (HLS), and we have already resumed conversations with SpaceX. It’s clear we’re both eager to get back to work together and establish a new timeline for our initial lunar demonstration missions,” Nelson said. “Returning to the Moon as quickly and safely as possible is an agency priority. However, with the recent lawsuit and other factors, the first human landing under Artemis is likely no earlier than 2025.”
NASA typically selects two or more companies but selected only one to develop a lunar lander due to budget constraints. They selected the best proposal that was within the budget. SpaceX requested $2.9 billion to develop a lunar-optimized Starship, Blue Origin’s National Team requested $5.9 billion, and Dynetics $9 billion.
Nelson said that Congress wants NASA to select additional companies to conduct at least 10 astronaut missions to the Moon. “Going forward, NASA is planning for at least 10 Moon landings in the future, and the agency needs significant increases in funding for future lander competition, starting with the 2023 budget,” said Nelson. "[...] Congress has made clear that there must be competition for the 10 plus moon landings in the future," Nelson said at the press conference. "I have not been shy about stating this. And I've stated [it] publicly several times," Nelson added regarding the agency’s need for increased funding to select multiple companies to achieve a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface. "We need, for a full-up competition — which Congress has made, in no uncertain terms, their not only preference, but their strong, strong urging to have a competition for the eventual lander." Nelson said that would entail a budget of approximately $5.7 billion over 6 years.
On October 18, the U.S. Senate released a draft plan of the appropriation bill that governs NASA’s budget for Fiscal Year 2022, where the Senate Appropriations Committee states that NASA should select two companies to develop a HLS lunar lander and proposed to give the agency an additional $100 million to fund their second selection. If this amount is approved for next year’s budget, the total funding for the Artemis HLS program would be approximately $1.295 billion, with NASA receiving an overall budget of $24.83 billion for all its operations planned for 2022.
“Using this funding, NASA is expected to ensure redundancy and competition, including robust support for research, development, testing, and evaluation for no fewer than two HLS Teams,” the U.S. Senate's draft bill says. “The Committee expects real investments in development rather than additional studies.” The Senate stated that “having at least two teams providing services […] should be the end goal of the current development program.” However, the additional $100 million for the HLS program would not be enough to select a second aerospace company, NASA would need more funding to meet Congress expectations long-term.
Featured Image Source: NASA