NASA doles out millions to SpaceX, Blue Origin to develop Artemis moon lander concepts
The awards come as Blue Origin continues to dispute a $2.9B Human Landing System contract awarded to SpaceX in April
NASA has awarded $146 million to five aerospace companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics, to develop moon lander concepts for future missions under its Artemis program.
The awards include $9.4 million for SpaceX, $25.6 million for Blue Origin, $34.8 million for Northrop Grumman, $35.2 million for Lockheed Martin, and $40.8 million for Dynetics.
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The fixed-price, milestone-based contracts were awarded under the NextSTEP-2 (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships) Appendix N: Sustainable Human Landing System Studies and Risk Reduction solicitation for work that will be conducted over the next 15 months.
Under the solicitation, the five companies will develop lander design concepts and evaluate their performance, design, construction standards, mission assurance requirements, interfaces, safety, crew health accommodations, and medical capabilities. In addition, they will mitigate lunar lander risks by "conducting critical component tests and advancing the maturity of key technologies."
"Establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon through recurring services using lunar landers is a major Artemis goal," NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Kathy Lueders said in a statement. "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."
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The Appendix N contract is separate from the $2.9 billion Appendix H procurement awarded to SpaceX's reusable Starship spacecraft back in April that is now at the center of a lawsuit with Blue Origin.
The lawsuit came after protests by Blue Origin and Dynetics, which accused NASA of giving preferential treatment to SpaceX during the Human Landing System selection process, were denied by the Government Accountability Office in July. The agency ruled that the protests failed to establish "any reasonable possibility of competitive prejudice."
In addition to the lawsuit, Blue Origin distributed an infographic on social media attacking Starship's capabilities, prompting a war of words with SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos also offered to cover over $2 billion of NASA's costs in exchange for a second HLS contract.
Though NASA's Artemis program said it was aiming to send astronauts back to the moon as early as 2024, a report by the agency's inspector general in August determined the timeline is "no longer feasible" due to several factors, including delays in the development of flight-ready spacesuits, the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion capsule, and the lunar lander. The spacesuits are not expected to be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest, according to the watchdog.
NASA confirmed in August that work on the human landing system would be temporarily paused after parties agreed to resolve the litigation with Blue Origin by Nov. 1.
"NASA is committed to Artemis and to maintaining the nation’s global leadership in space exploration," agency officials wrote in a statement. "With our partners, we will go to the Moon and stay to enable science investigations, develop new technology, and create high paying jobs for the greater good and in preparation to send astronauts to Mars."