NASA already has plans for SpaceX to develop a lander to carry astronauts to the moon’s surface for its Artemis missions, but now the agency is searching for another company to develop a second lunar lander. NASA had previously announced it would be open to other lunar lander concepts, and this week it shared an official solicitation inviting proposals.
NASA is looking to award a contract for one uncrewed and one crewed lunar landing, as part of the long-term goal to establish a human presence on the moon. The lander will be required for missions beyond Artemis III, the first crewed mission under the Artemis program, which is scheduled for 2025 at the earliest.
“Work done under this solicitation, in addition to current lander development and studies taking place, will help build the foundation for long-term deep space exploration,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in a statement. “Partnering with American companies to do that work now allows us to leverage NASA’s knowledge and expertise to encourage technological innovations for a sustained presence at the moon.”
The selection of SpaceX for the first lunar lander contract was somewhat controversial, and a proposal from fellow space company Blue Origin was rejected. Blue Origin sued NASA over this contract award and lost the court case, but the case raised debate about whether there was enough competition for NASA contracts. The invitation for a second lunar lander seems to be NASA’s response, with the agency hoping to demonstrate that it is open to whichever space company can provide the best services.
It’s not yet known whether Blue Origin will try to compete for this new contract. As for other companies, two prominent companies which could submit proposals are Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman but neither has officially announced that they will do so. According to SpaceNews, officials from Lockheed and Northrop were “noncommittal” after the announcement that NASA would be open to proposals.
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