NASA announced it selected five U.S. companies to develop landers to return astronauts to the lunar surface under an Artemis program called – Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix N: Sustainable Human Landing System Studies and Risk Reduction. NASA awarded a combined total of $146 million to the five companies to develop concepts of lunar landers that could conduct crewed missions. The agency awarded SpaceX a $9.5 million contract, $26.5 million to Blue Origin; $40.8 million to Dynetics; $35.2 million to Lockheed Martin; and $34.8 million to Northrop Grumman. “These companies will make advancements toward sustainable human landing system concepts, conduct risk-reduction activities, and provide feedback on NASA’s requirements to cultivate industry capabilities for crewed lunar landing missions,” agency representatives wrote in a press release on September 14.
Under NextSTEP-2, companies will create lander concepts and perform tests to assess vehicle safety. Ultimately, the agency aims to enable a sustainable human presence on the Moon so the companies must develop a reliable, cost-effective vehicle. The five companies will work on their lunar landers over the next 15 months. “Establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon through recurring services using lunar landers is a major Artemis goal,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at Headquarters in Washington. “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.”
This massive award contracts announcement comes after NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion Human Landing System (HLS) contract to develop a lunar-optimized Starship to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024. SpaceX was the sole winner of the award causing competitor Blue Origin to file lawsuits against NASA, claiming the selection process was “unfair.” The agency paused work on HLS until November due to the ongoing lawsuit.
This new batch of awards shows that NASA wants to give the opportunity to more American companies to help return astronauts to the lunar surface, as well as transport crew/cargo to and from lunar orbit. “The work from these companies will ultimately help shape the strategy and requirements for a future NASA’s solicitation to provide regular astronaut transportation from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon,” they said in a press release last week. "Collaboration with our partners is critical to achieving NASA’s long-term Artemis lunar exploration goals,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, Human Landing System Program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “By partnering with innovative U.S. companies, we will establish a robust lunar economy while exploring new areas of the Moon for generations to come.”
*September 21, 2021 Editor's note: Fixed typo. SpaceX’s HLS contract is $2.9 Billion.*
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