Artemis lunar lander contenders revisit team rosters for round two

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Companies interested in a NASA competition for a second Artemis lunar lander are using this week’s 37th Space Symposium to find partners that may result in different teams than the earlier lander competition.

NASA released a draft version of the request for proposals (RFP) for its Sustaining Lunar Development project March 30. That will fund development of a second lunar lander, alongside SpaceX’s Starship, to take astronauts to and from the lunar surface for the later “sustainable” phase of the Artemis program.

NASA expects to release the final RFP this summer with responses due within 60 days, agency officials said at an April 4 virtual industry day. NASA will a select one team in January 2023 for a five-year fixed-price award.

With the draft RFP released, companies are moving into high gear to form teams to compete for a contract likely worth several billion dollars.

“We’re going to be in the game somewhere,” Robert Lightfoot, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space, said of the competition in an April 5 interview during Space Symposium. “We’re having a lot of conversations this week.”

In the original Human Landing System (HLS) competition that SpaceX won, Lockheed Martin was part of the “National Team” led by Blue Origin that also included Northrop Grumman and Draper. Northrop executives said March 30 they were considering both working again with Blue Origin and leading a separate team.

Lightfoot said the new Sustaining Lunar Development competition differs from HLS, which he described as being driven by the goal at the time to return humans to the moon by 2024. The new competition is focused on landers to support long-term lunar exploration that can support later missions to Mars.

“That changes your discussion about what capability you want bring to the table,” he said. “Anything we do we want to be extensible to Mars.”

He said Lockheed had several meetings this week to talk with prospective partners. “Space Symposium was actually a perfect opportunity for us because, for anybody we want to talk to, we can get together like that,” he said.

In the original HLS competition, Sierra Space was part of a team led by Dynetics that was one of the finalists. The company, which is focusing most of its efforts on its Dream Chaser spaceplane and the Orbital Reef commercial space station, is considering participating in the new competition, but not necessarily with Dynetics.

“We have a very unique, strong relationship with Blue Origin,” said Tom Vice, chief executive of Sierra Space, in an April 5 interview. The two companies are the lead partners on the Orbital Reef commercial space station, one of three that won NASA funding in December for initial design studies.

He said Sierra Space would likely partner on any proposal from Blue Origin rather than lead its own team. “We would probably think about how we partner with them,” he said. “They’re still putting together their overall team, but that’s how I think it would play out for us. We wouldn’t go it alone.”