NASA calls for proposals for second Artemis crewed lunar lander

PARIS — NASA has issued a call for proposals for a second human lunar lander for the Artemis program to join the Starship lander being developed by SpaceX.

NASA released the call for proposals on Sept. 16, nearly six months after announcing plans for the Sustaining Lunar Development (SLD) project and releasing a draft call for proposals for industry feedback. The agency has set November 15 as the deadline for receiving proposals with an expected price in May 2023.

The selected company would develop a lander that would support missions after Artemis 3, the first crewed landing of the Artemis campaign to be performed by SpaceX no earlier than 2025. The winning company would perform an uncrewed landing followed by a crew as soon as possible. as the Artemis 5 mission in the late 2020s and then be eligible, with SpaceX, to enter into lunar landing service contracts for subsequent missions.

« The work being done under this solicitation, in addition to current lander development and ongoing studies, will help lay the foundation for long-term deep space exploration, » said Lisa Watson- Morgan, Human Landing System (HLS) program manager at NASA’s Marshall. Space Flight Center, said in a statement about the release of the call for proposals.

In March, NASA presented Sustaining Lunar Development as fulfilling a commitment to Congress that it will have competition across the entire HLS program. « I promised competition, so here it is, » NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said when the project was announced in March.

The winning company will have to demonstrate that their lander can meet the requirements of a fictional lunar lander mission called a polar walkout mission. This mission would carry two astronauts to the lunar surface for a stay of up to 6.25 days and support four planned and one emergency moonwalks.

A subsequent polar excursion mission would require the lander to carry four astronauts to the lunar surface and remain there for 33 days. This mission would assume that there are other assets at the landing site, such as a habitat where the astronauts would stay during the mission, and therefore would only require a round trip to the moon from the lander to the habitat and return. The companies can also show how their landers could support short-stay missions to regions other than the moon’s south pole and be used to transport cargo.

The original HLS competition, won by SpaceX in April 2021, also included bids from teams led by Blue Origin and Dynetics. These companies protested the award to the Government Accountability Office, which dismissed the protests three months later. Blue Origin then filed a lawsuit in federal court, which ruled against the company, allowing NASA to sue with SpaceX.

Neither Blue Origin nor Dynetics have officially announced their intention to bid for the Sustaining Lunar Development program, although Blue Origin has an « Artemis Lander » placeholder page on its website.

It’s also unclear if Blue Origin’s partners from its « national team » who bid on HLS, including Draper, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, will join Blue Origin again for the new competition. Lockheed and Northrop officials were evasive shortly after the project was announced in March, saying they were considering options at the time.

“We are considering SLD. Obviously, this is an opportunity for us,” Robert Lightfoot, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space, said in an Aug. 28 interview ahead of the first launch attempt of Artemis 1. He said the company had decided which companies it would work with on the proposal, but was not ready to disclose them.

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