by Douglas Messier
NASA has awarded Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS) a contract of an undisclosed amount to modify its Cygnus space station resupply vehicle to serve as the minimal habitation module (MHM) for the Lunar Gateway.
Northrop Grumman won out over four competitors that had won contracts to develop mockup habitats under the space agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) program.
The reason? NGIS would be capable of manufacturing and launching a scaled-down habitat that met NASA’s needs in time for a crewed landing in 2024, according to a document the space agency posted on the General Services Administration’s (GSA) procurement website.
Of the NextSTEP-2 contractors, NASA determined that only NGIS could complete the work in time for a December 2023 launch because of their existing production capability in partnership with its spaceflight module construction contractor, their advancement of critical docking port and thermal control system designs directly applicable to the existing Cygnus primary structure design, and the capability of their module to be launched while encapsulated within an existing commercial launch vehicle fairing. The combination of these development activities and existing capabilities establish NGIS as uniquely qualified to produce the MHM within the required schedule.
NASA used its authority under the existing Next_STEP-2 program to make the award. The space agency rejected proposals from Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corporation as taking too long.
“A design at the Critical Design Review stage (no new technologies, new tooling required) would take four years, while a design at the System Requirement Review stage (no new technologies) would take five years,” NASA said in the document. “Furthermore, a new full and open competition would cause an additional delay of 12-18 months or more in fulfilling the agency’s requirements.”
The amount of the contract is blacked out in the NASA document.
The MHM will be attached to the Lunar Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). In May, NASA awarded Maxar Technologies a $375 million contract to build the PPE.
Cygnus is a disposable resupply ship that Orbital Sciences Corporation (now NGIS) developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to ferry supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).
Cygnus’ pressurized cargo module is made in Italy by Thales Alenia Space. It is based on multi-purpose logistics modules that were flown aboard space shuttle orbiters to carry cargo to the station. One of the three modules, Leonardo, was modified and permanently attached to ISS in 2011.