NASA Opens Call for Artemis Lunar Landers

Image by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is seeking proposals for human lunar landing systems designed and developed by US companies for the Artemis program, which intends to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, the agency said on 30 September.

This final industry call comes after NASA issued two drafts on 19 July and 30 August, encouraging companies to help shape a key component of the mission. NASA is expected to award multiple contracts to develop and demonstrate a human landing system.

Proposals are due on 1 November, a timeline that the agency describes as “ambitious” and “consistent with the sequence of events leading to this point”.

Companies have been preparing for, reviewing, and commenting on several drafts of NASA’s broad agency announcement since mid-July, and the agency believes this means they should be prepared for such a tight timeline.

“In order to best accelerate our return to the Moon and prepare for Mars, we collaborated with industry on ideas to streamline the procurement process,” Marshall Smith, director of the Human Lunar Exploration Program at NASA, said in a statement.

“The private sector was eager to provide us feedback throughout this process, and we received more than 1,150 comments on the draft solicitations issued over the summer,” he added.

According to NASA, is can take six to eight years to develop typical spaceflight hardware, so with less than five years until the agency expects to be landing astronauts on the Moon, every word and requirement counts.

After reviewing companies’ comments, the agency removed requirements that were seen as “potential barriers to speed while preserving all [of NASA’s] human safety measures”, such as high numbers of formal technical reports that would require considerable resources and risk delays.

Taking this into consideration, NASA has designed a less formal oversight process, which can be used to access critical contractor data, while minimizing administrative overheads; as a result, NASA reduced the number of required contract deliverables significantly.

“Reports still are valuable and necessary, but to compromise and ease the bulk of the reporting burden on industry, we are asking for access to the companies’ systems to monitor progress throughout development,” Nantel Suzuki, the Human Landing System program executive at NASA, said.

“To maximize our chances of successfully returning to the Moon by 2024, we also are making NASA’s engineering workforce available to contractors and asking proposers to submit a collaboration plan,” they added.

When called upon to accelerate its return to the Moon, NASA said it would meet this goal by “any means necessary”. Its preferred approach is for the crew in the Orion spacecraft and the un-crewed human landing system to launch separately and meet in lunar orbit at the Gateway.

NASA said it wants to “explore all options” to achieve the 2024 mission and that it “remains open to alternative, innovative approaches”.

Another shift in its approach centred around how best to achieve sustainability on the Moon by 2028. NASA originally wanted the human landing system to be refuellable to ensure a more sustainable exploration architecture.

However, multiple companies were concerned about this requirement, the agency said, so NASA agreed to remove it so that the industry has “greater flexibility to address the more fundamental attribute of sustainability, which is long-term affordability”.

“They were absolutely right,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, the Human Landing System program manager at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Centre, said. “We are operating on a timeline that requires us to be flexible to encourage innovation and alternate approaches. We still welcome the option to refuel the landing system, but we removed it as a requirement.”

NASA’s Artemis program intends to send a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency plans to leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.

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