NASA selects five companies for lunar lander studies
Updated 7 a.m. Eastern Sept. 15 with Northrop Grumman comment.
DALLAS — NASA will provide $146 million to five companies, representing the three teams that previously competed to develop the Artemis lunar lander, to perform studies for future lunar lander concepts.
NASA announced Sept. 14 the awards for what the agency calls Appendix N of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP). NASA issued a request for proposals for NextSTEP Appendix N in July to support work on what NASA calls “sustainable” human landing system concepts intended to support missions after Artemis 3, the first crewed lunar landing mission of the Artremis program.
Three of the awardees are part of the so-called “National Team” led by Blue Origin, which received $25.6 million. Lockheed Martin received $35.2 million and Northrop Grumman $34.8 million.
While the three companies received individual awards, a Lockheed executive confirmed they are still participating in the Blue Origin-led team while also studying other options. “Lockheed Martin continues to be committed to the National Team and its thoughtful, safe and sustainable lander system,” Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed Martin, said in a statement to SpaceNews.
“As a long-standing and trusted NASA partner, we also believe it is important to provide additional approaches to help shape the strategy for both a sustainable human presence on the moon and also future human missions to Mars,” she added.
A Northrop executive offered a similar assessment. “We continue to work in partnership with Blue Origin and the National Team to meet NASA’s ambitious goals to return to the moon and Mars,” said Steve Krein, vice president of civil and commercial satellites at Northrop Grumman, in a statement to SpaceNews. “In addition to those collective efforts, we are also providing our unique skills and capabilities to exploring alternative perspectives for a long-term sustainable program to take humans back to the moon to stay.”
The Blue Origin-led team was one of three bidders for the Human Landing System (HLS) program, where NASA funds development of a lunar lander and a demonstration mission. Dynetics, another HLS bidder, received $40.8 million.
Both Blue Origin’s National Team and Dynetics lost to SpaceX, which won a $2.9 billion award in April for a lunar lander based on its Starship vehicle. SpaceX also received an Appendix N award valued at $9.4 million, by far the smallest of the five made by NASA.
Neither NASA nor any of the companies disclosed details of what they plan to do with the awards. In its statement, NASA said the funding would support concept studies and risk-reduction activities, and give the companies the opportunity to offer feedback on NASA’s requirements for crewed human landing services.
Appendix N is intended to be a bridge for NASA’s Lunar Exploration Transportation Services (LETS) program, where NASA will buy crewed lunar landing services for later Artemis missions, much as it does commercial crew and cargo services for the International Space Station.
Blue Origin in particular had been pushing back against this approach, arguing it puts companies other than SpaceX, with its HLS award, at a disadvantage in a future LETS competition. Both Blue Origin and Dynetics protested the HLS award to the Government Accountability Office, claiming in part that NASA’s decision to make a single HLS award violated the terms of the competition.
The GAO rejected those claims in July, but Blue Origin filed a suit against the government in the Court of Federal Claims Aug. 13 to appeal that decision. As part of an agreement to expedite the case, the government agreed to a voluntary stay of NASA’s HLS award to SpaceX to Nov. 1. The award was also put on hold during the GAO’s review of the two protests.
NASA has expressed its desire to make a second HLS award, but currently lacks the funding to do so. Agency officials, including Administrator Bill Nelson, asked Congress to provide additional funding in either the agency’s fiscal year 2022 spending bill or a separate $3.5 trillion “budget reconciliation” spending package. The House version of the 2022 appropriations bill included only a small increase in HLS funding, while the House version of the budget reconciliation package offers nothing for HLS. The Senate is still working on its versions of the two bills.