- SpaceX, Blue Origin's National Team, and a 25-company team led by Dynetics have been selected to develop and test their human landing systems as part of NASA's Artemis program.
- NASA Administrator announced the awards April 30 during a teleconference streamed on NASA TV.
- Now, the companies will spend the next ten months working with NASA to perfect the designs.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed that SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics would be eligible to develop the lunar lander for NASA's upcoming trip to the moon.
"Now, we have the jewel in the crown, which is our human landing system," associate administrator of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Doug Loverro said during the April 30 teleconference. Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the human landing systems program and contracting officer Tyler Cochran joined Loverro and Bridenstine on the teleconference.
The Artemis program is designed to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024. NASA plans to send astronauts to the lunar south pole, an area of key scientific interest because of the availability of water ice tucked in the region's permanently shadowed craters.
The Artemis program has several key components: the Space Launch System rocket, the Lockheed Martin-built Orion capsule, and the lunar-orbiting Gateway space station. Initially, Gateway was set to be an integral part of the first of the Artemis mission, but NASA has since backed off that plan.
"The one thing that we have not had as an agency under development is a human landing system," Bridenstine said during the teleconference. "This is the last piece that we need in order to get to the moon, and now we’re going to have that piece."
In total, NASA awarded $967 million to the three contractors to refine their designs during the 10-month-long period. $579 million was awarded to Blue Origin, $253 million to Dynetics, and $135 million to Spacex.
Now, it's off the races for these three teams. The teams each have ten months to refine their concepts, at which point NASA will decide whether or not to downselect to two teams to move with development and testing.
"We have three notably different architectures, from a one stage, a two-stage and a three stage architecture," Watson-Morgan said during the teleconference. "That achieves the innovation and the dissimilar redundancy of approaches that we wanted.
Here's a bit about the award winners and their designs:
Blue Origin's National Team
Blue Origin tapped Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Draper—all veteran developers of spaceflight tech—to aid the Jeff Bezos-run company in developing its three-stage lunar landing system called the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV). Blue Origin is designing the lander but also the BE-7 engines—filled with a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen—that will power the spacecraft.
Lockheed Martin will develop an "ascent element," including a crew capsule similar to the Orion capsule. Northrop Grumman will be in charge of developing a transfer element similar to its Cygnus cargo module and Draper will handle guidance, navigation and control, avionics and software systems for spacecraft, according to the press release.
Each of these elements, according to the statement, can be launched together or separately atop both available commercial rockets—including the company's New Glenn rocket and United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket— as well as NASA's SLS rocket.
Blue Origin's National Team, according to Watson-Morgan, will conduct an uncrewed lunar landing test of their descent module prior to the crewed mission.
For the past few months, SpaceX had been tight-lipped about designs for a potential human landing system. In October, SpaceX COO Glynn Shotwell told reporters that the company would adapt their Starship spacecraft and Falcon Heavy rocket to support the mission—and that's exactly what they did.
SpaceX's Starship spacecraft and Falcon Heavy rocket are designed to carry humans to the moon, Mars, and beyond. The company will adapt the spacecraft's roomy interior—primarily developed to carry cargo—to house a crew of astronauts. It will be equipped with two airlocks and, as shown in the above image, an elevator that will lower and lift astronauts onto the Lunar surface.
According to the press release, SpaceX intends to send up several Starship spacecraft, including one filled with propellant into low-Earth orbit to support the human-rated spacecraft. Starship will be able to dock with the Orion capsule and the lunar Gateway and will be launched atop the company's reusable Raptor engine-powered Super Heavy rocket.
Watson-Morgan said that the company will conduct a demonstration of the propellant transfer system and an uncrewed lunar test landing.
Dynetics, a Leidos company based in Huntsville, Alabama, has formed a superhero-like crew of 25 subcontractors, which will partner to develop their two-stage Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS).
Notably, Dynetics's concept hangs close to the ground to allow astronauts easy access to the lunar surface and comes equipped with an "anytime abort capability" according to Watson-Morgan. It will also be able to dock with the Orion capsule and the lunar Gateway and can be launched atop a variety of different commercial rockets.
Watson-Morgan says Dynetics also plans to conduct a demonstration flight before sending astronauts aboard their landing system.
Noticeably absent from the list is Boeing, which publicly announced that it was submitting a proposal in November. NASA officials declined to comment on why the spaceflight company wasn’t selected, but the agency and government watchdog groups like the Government Accountability Office have openly criticized how the company has handled the development of the Space Launch System.
“We’ve selected the best of industry’s ideas to team with NASA,” said Loverro. “This is really the last piece of the puzzle to go ahead and get us back to the moon."
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