In preparation of this lunar return through the Artemis program, NASA is opening up the competition through a proposal process for a second company to develop lunar lander concepts. In April 2021, NASA determined that SpaceX would be its partner to help land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon by April 2025.
Long-term lunar exploration through a succession of Artemis missions will require sustainable landers that retrieve astronauts from an orbiting lunar outpost called the Gateway and take them down to the moon’s surface. New landing technology under Artemis will also increase the crew capacity, as well as the ability to carry more science and technology to the lunar surface.
Now, NASA wants SpaceX and other companies to develop landers for lunar missions beyond the Artemis III mission, which will be the first to return humans to the moon.
The agency has a two-pronged approach to this. They’re asking SpaceX to put in additional work on landers for a second demonstration mission as part of their existing contract, as well as opening up a competitive opportunity for other US companies to submit their concepts for sustainable landers.
“Under Artemis, NASA will carry out a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap for humanity: a crewed mission to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement.
“Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to carry out a cadence of missions over the next decade. Thank you to the Biden Administration and Congress for their support of this new astronaut lander opportunity, which will ultimately strengthen and increase flexibility for Artemis.”
The agency will draft up a solicitation within the coming weeks that lays out requirements for the lander proposals and the second contract award will be called the Sustaining Lunar Development contract.
“This strategy expedites progress toward a long-term, sustaining lander capability as early as the 2026 or 2027 timeframe,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in a statement.
“We expect to have two companies safely carry astronauts in their landers to the surface of the Moon under NASA’s guidance before we ask for services, which could result in multiple experienced providers in the market.”
The formal request for proposals should be posted by this summer, after NASA hosts a virtual industry day this spring.