NASA Taps 11 American Companies to Advance Human Lunar Landers

Artist’s conception of lunar lander (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 11 companies to conduct studies and produce prototypes of human landers for its Artemis lunar exploration program. This effort will help put American astronauts — the first woman and next man — on the Moon’s south pole by 2024 and establish sustainable missions by 2028.

“To accelerate our return to the Moon, we are challenging our traditional ways of doing business. We will streamline everything from procurement to partnerships to hardware development and even operations,” said Marshall Smith, director for human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters. “Our team is excited to get back to the Moon quickly as possible, and our public/private partnerships to study human landing systems are an important step in that process.”

Through Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Appendix E contracts, the selected companies will study and/or develop prototypes during the next six months that reduce schedule risk for the descent, transfer, and refueling elements of a potential human landing system.

NASA’s proposed plan is to transport astronauts in a human landing system that includes a transfer element for the journey from the lunar Gateway to low-lunar orbit, a descent element to carry them to the surface, and an ascent element to return to them to the Gateway. The agency also is looking at refueling capabilities to make these systems reusable.

The total award amount for all companies is $45.5 million. As NextSTEP is a public/private partnership program, companies are required to contribute at least 20% of the total project cost. This partnership will reduce costs to taxpayers and encourage early private investments in the lunar economy.

The awardees, from eight states across the country, are:

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne – Canoga Park, California
    • One transfer vehicle study
  • Blue Origin – Kent, Washington
    • One descent element study, one transfer vehicle study, and one transfer vehicle prototype
  • Boeing – Houston
    • One descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
  • Dynetics – Huntsville, Alabama
    • One descent element study and five descent element prototypes
  • Lockheed Martin – Littleton, Colorado
    • One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, and one refueling element study
  • Masten Space Systems – Mojave, California
    • One descent element prototype
  • Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – Dulles, Virginia
    • One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
  • OrbitBeyond – Edison, New Jersey
    • Two refueling element prototypes
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin
    • One descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, and one refueling element study
  • SpaceX – Hawthorne, California
    • One descent element study
  • SSL – Palo Alto, California
    • One refueling element study and one refueling element prototype

To expedite the work, NASA is invoking undefinitized contract actions, which allow the agency to authorize partners to start a portion of the work, while negotiations toward contract award continue in parallel.

“We’re taking major steps to begin development as quickly as possible, including invoking a NextSTEP option that allows our partners to begin work while we’re still negotiating,” said Greg Chavers, human landing system formulation manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “We’re keen to collect early industry feedback about our human landing system requirements, and the undefinitized contract action will help us do that.”

NASA gave industry its first heads up in April, with the issuance of a pre-solicitation, of its intention to partner with American companies on the development of an integrated lander. The formal solicitation, to be issued this summer, will provide the requirements for a 2024 human landing, and leave it to U.S. industry to propose innovative concepts, hardware development and integration.

“This new approach doesn’t prescribe a specific design or number of elements for the human landing system,” Chavers said. “NASA needs the system to get our astronauts on the surface and return them home safely, and we’re leaving a lot of the specifics to our commercial partners.”

NASA is sending astronauts to the Moon and then on to Mars, in a measured and sustainable way. The direction from Space Policy Directive-1 builds on the hard work NASA is doing on its Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, agency efforts to enable commercial partners, its work with international partners, and what NASA learns from its current robotic missions at the Moon and Mars. Learn more at:

https://www.nasa.gov/moontomars

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    I hope they publish pictures of their proposed landers and transfer vehicles.

  • savuporo

    Starting CE&R studies over again 15 years later, except in reduced scope and with a straitjacket ( Orion ) on

    https://www.nasa.gov/missions/solarsystem/vision_concepts.html

    Some sanity has returned

  • windbourne

    boy blast from the past. I remember all that. I really thought that tSpace would win COTS. They had some good stuff.

  • Jeff Smith

    Sure would make it easier to understand what they’re actually envisioning!

  • Jonathan A. Goff

    We’re supporting one of the teams on some prototypes. Should be interesting. I hope that at least some of the landerideas are creative ones instead of just revisited LEMs/LSAMs.

  • Aerospike

    Great to see you involved as well as Masten Space Systems on the list!

  • therealdmt

    Re: “The total award amount for all companies is $45.5 million”

    I must be missing something, but what kinds of prototypes are gonna be built for that kind of money? Pretty low fidelity ones, I guess

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    $45.5 million / 11 = $4,140,000 for 6 months work

    At $200,000 a year including overheads
    $4,140,000 / (200,000 / 2) = 41.4 people

    If half the money goes on raw materials then teams of about 20 people have half a year to produce a lander able to land several tons and a large delta-v.

    No wonder the big companies are writing reports rather than bending metal.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    One thing the small companies will have to do is produce a document that NASA can refer to. It only has to be a few pages long. Without it the government bureaucracy will short circuit.

    The official paperwork could be a requirements document, sales brochure, a user guide or payload interface description. The type of document does not matter providing it has a unique reference number, date and issue number.

    For planning purposes NASA will find it useful if the document includes model name of the lander, manufacturer’s name and address, cross reference to the contract, maximum payload, lunar delta-v (or propellant mass), all consumables required, Isp of fuel/engine, the lander’s dry mass and dimensions. Optionally a picture of the lander.

  • Jeff2Space

    I’m glad to see a diverse set of companies on this list. I personally don’t put much faith in the large aerospace contractors. They move too slowly and ultimately cost too much. It seems the only way to get them to move is to prod them via competition.

  • therealdmt

    Can it be a PDF, or will a hard copy be required?

    😀

  • savuporo

    You need to look at CE&R studies presentations to understand the expected deliverables. Or that time when NASA wanted a commercial-based Mars telecom orbiter bids from five comsat builders for about $50 million as well.

  • Cluebat Vanexodar

    Gateway- fie!

  • Cluebat Vanexodar

    By forcing us to use Lunar Gateway they hope to exert control over lunar exploitation.
    Hopefully commercial actors will completely bypass this political power play.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    They are not mutually exclusive.

  • duheagle

    The companies receiving the contract awards are also expected to kick in 20% of the costs so the total amount of money here is actually about $57 million. Individual companies are not, one presumes, forbidden to spend more. I’m guessing the most impressive early results – especially the prototypes – are likely to come from the smallest firms among the awardees. The small players will be better motivated and far better at stretching a buck.

  • publiusr

    The Mars Base Camp lander and the Bezos lander look interesting. The BaseCamp lander, when clad, can do Mars as well. A two fer.

  • publiusr

    Agreed.
    I wish I were a trillionaire and I’d fund all of them.

  • Do you see who’s missing from that list? It’s the one company who has already done a lot of the work and who could give us a human-scale lander the first. ULA with their XEUS / ACES lunar lander concept. It’s a shame that their parent companies aren’t allowing them to compete.

  • publiusr

    Thanks for that history.

  • Jeff2Space

    But then ULA would be directly competing with its own parent companies which would be awkward.

    Even more importantly, ULA has to focus on getting Vulcan flying and on its long term profitability. After all, its parent companies don’t want to lose money on ULA, now do they?

    Yes this is all ass-backwards and stupid, but that’s the way ULA is set up.

  • ThomasLMatula

    It will be interesting to see what SpaceX submits.

    I could see the discussion now. NASA: We need a lander for 2-4 astronauts. SpaceX: The Starship will deliver 100 to the Moon surface. NASA: we only have 44 astronauts total. SpaceX: They could invite their friends along.

    I wonder if the will include pictures of the Starship Prototype. It should be finished by then.

  • Robert G. Oler

    sure by 2024 Starship is going to be flying to the Moon…its clear why you like Trump

  • Larry J

    It isn’t clear whether each company is paid an equal amount. It’s possible those companies that are delivering more will receive more funding.

  • ThomasLMatula

    SpaceX is shaking things up just like President Trump and that is what makes it interesting. And remember, Elon Musk stated in a tweet he will only TRY to make America’s goal, but note there is a lot to do with Starship first. The key point is that at least he is bending metal on a vehicle that will have more far potential than simply allowing science missions to the Moon.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I guess it depends on ones definition of “shake things up”

    so far SpaceX is far far more talk then go

    they have developed a fairly reasonable Lox/RP4 burner that is recoverable. but the product even with recoverability has NOT changed the price set point in a manner which has changed the market “width” that space launch is appealing to

    from a human crew standpoint…what to say…they are fairly pedestrian and its clear from their loss rate…that they really are not ready for anything “innovative” here

    when they have flown a BF whatever to orbit and recovered it then we can see where their price point is on that one. there is nothing which indicates that Elon is any better in judging that one then he was what reusability would do for the Falcon series

    Trump innovative? we now have a presidency where lies are common place, respect for the law near zero and almost every policy is in self made chaos.

    See North Korea…we are far worse off there then before the last 18 months of chaos which he is trying to repeat in iran.

  • duheagle

    Somewhere, RGO seems to have gotten hold of one of those sets of special spectacles that make the whole world look upside down.