Featured Image Source: NASA
NASA plans to award $7 billion worth of contracts to several companies that submitted a bid to earn a Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) contract. The program aims to build a the Lunar Gateway space station orbiting the moon. It will be similar to the International Space Station that is orbiting Earth. The construction of the Lunar Gateway station is a stepping stone in NASA's Artemis Program, which aims to take the first woman and the next man to the moon's surface in the year 2024. "This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, "The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars."
When the Lunar Gateway is built it will become a spaceship station, a temporary home and office for astronauts who travel to explore the lunar surface. It will feature rooms and laboratories to conduct scientific experiments while orbiting the moon. The station will have several docking ports where spacecraft and cargo modules will dock (pictured above).
The companies that submitted a bid to be part of the Lunar Gateway logistics program are: SpaceX, Boeing, Northrop Grumman (NGIS), and Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC).
NASA awarded SpaceX with the first Gateway Logistics Services program contract. The rocket company will be the first cargo carrier to the future Lunar Gateway station. SpaceX's most powerful rocket, Falcon Heavy, will be tasked to launch a new spacecraft called 'Dragon XL' to the lunar station under the agency's GLS contract. NASA revealed a render of SpaceX's new Dragon XL spacecraft, that will be capable of carrying more than 5-metric-tons to the moon's orbit (pictured below). Dragon XL will take vital cargo, supplies and equipment that would be needed at the Lunar Gateway station in order to maintain a human presence on the moon.
"Bringing a logistics provider onboard ensures we can transport all the critical supplies we need for the Gateway and on the lunar surface to do research and technology demonstrations in space that we can’t do anywhere else. We also anticipate performing a variety of research on and within the logistics module," NASA representatives wrote in a press release. SpaceX's Dragon XL will conduct a series of missions in which the craft will stay docked the Gateway station for 6 to 12 months at a time. SpaceX and NASA agreed on a fixed-price Gateway Logistics Services contract.
"Returning to the Moon and supporting future space exploration requires affordable delivery of significant amounts of cargo." SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said, "Through our partnership with NASA, SpaceX has been delivering scientific research and critical supplies to the International Space Station since 2012, and we are honored to continue the work beyond Earth’s orbit and carry Artemis cargo to Gateway."
NASA Deputy Administrator Kenneth Bowersox, says the agency awarded SpaceX the first GLS contract because it offers cargo services at a "significantly" lower price and their proposal had a superior technical approach in comparison to the other companies. SpaceX has also demonstrated their Falcon Heavy rocket and Dragon spacecraft are reliable to carry out missions. "For the Price Factor, SpaceX has the clear price advantage with the lowest overall total evaluated price. SNC had the next lowest price, followed by NGIS. Both were significantly higher than SpaceX's price," Bowersox wrote in a statement, "In sum, my comparative assessment of these proposals in the non-price area do not lead me to conclude that a tradeoff to the higher priced proposal is in the best interests of the Government, since in my view, SpaceX has the superior Technical Approach, a slightly superior Management Plan, and has, by a small margin, the best Past Performance among the other offerors. This, combined with the fact it also proposed the lowest evaluated price, leads me to select SpaceX for the initial GLS contract based on initial proposals."
NASA awarded SpaceX with the first contract under the $7 billion Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) program, while Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada Corp are still in the running – but Boeing is out.— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) April 9, 2020
NASA deputy admin. Kenneth Bowersox explains why: pic.twitter.com/vVDE6vPNaQ
Sierra Nevada Corp and Northrop Grumman are still awaiting if their proposal will be approved, but Boeing's proposal was denied. "Boeing received the lowest adjectival rating and score under the Mission Suitability factor amongst the four offers while also submitting the highest price. Particularly within the Technical Approach subfactor (the most important within the Mission Suitability factor), Boeing's proposal was the lowest rated of the four offers, with the inadequacy of its cargo stowage design identified as a significant weakness." Bowersox stated, "...I have decided to eliminate Boeing from further award consideration. This offeror's evaluation results and my assessment thereof, combined with the relative order of importance of the RFP's evaluation factors, have led me to conclude that Boeing is not competitive for award."
Source: CNBC/Micheal Sheetz via Twitter
In response, Boeing stated: "While we're disappointed NASA did not select our design for a resupply spacecraft to carry cargo to the Gateway during future lunar exploration missions, we congratulate NASA on achieving this important program milestone. Although our design was not selected, in part because of our commitment to protecting our intellectual property, we are under contract and working on other systems to support NASA's Artemis program. We are also focused on building the Space Launch System core stages and upper stages, which are critical capabilities required to take the first woman and next man to the moon in 2024."