Artemis: The Good, the Bad and the Well, Yeah

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and top officials provided an update on the Artemis program on Tuesday, delivering the not unexpected news that the space agency will not meet its deadline of landing a man and the first woman of color at the south pole of the moon in 2024. Instead, the landing will be delayed until at least 2025.

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Bezos Ends Challenge to NASA Lunar Lander Award to SpaceX

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos tweeted yesterday that he accepted a court’s dismissal of the company’s challenge to NASA’s decision to award a single lunar lander contract SpaceX. He wished the space agency and rival company full success in landing two astronauts on the moon.

NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop the Human Landing System in April. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) rejected protests from Blue Origin and Dynetics in July. Bezos’ company subsequently appealed in court.

NASA Selects Five U.S. Companies to Mature Artemis Lander Concepts

Artist concept of the Blue Origin National Team crewed lander on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Blue Origin)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected five U.S. companies to help the agency enable a steady pace of crewed trips to the lunar surface under the agency’s Artemis program. These companies will make advancements toward sustainable human landing system concepts, conduct risk-reduction activities, and provide feedback on NASA’s requirements to cultivate industry capabilities for crewed lunar landing missions.

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NASA Statement on GAO Ruling Regarding Human Landing System Protest

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The following is the NASA statement in response to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision released Friday on the human landing system protest:

“NASA was notified Friday, July 30, that the U.S. Government Accountability Office has denied the protests filed by Blue Origin Federation and Dynetics and has upheld the agency’s source selection of SpaceX to continue the development of its human landing system. The decision enables NASA to award the contract that will ultimately result in the first crewed demonstration landing on the surface of the Moon under NASA’s Artemis plan. Importantly, the GAO’s decision will allow NASA and SpaceX to establish a timeline for the first crewed landing on the Moon in more than 50 years.

“NASA recognizes that sending American astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program and establishing a long-term presence on the Moon is a priority for the Biden Administration and is imperative for maintaining American leadership in space. In the face of challenges during the last year, NASA and its partners have made significant achievements to advance Artemis, including a successful hot fire test for the Space Launch System rocket. An uncrewed flight of Artemis I is on track for this year and a crewed Artemis II mission is planned for 2023. 

“NASA is moving forward with urgency, but astronaut safety is the priority and the agency will not sacrifice the safety of the crew in the steadfast pursuit of the goal to establish a long-term presence on the Moon.

“As soon as possible, NASA will provide an update on the way ahead for Artemis, the human landing system, and humanity’s return to the Moon. We will continue to work with the Biden Administration and Congress to ensure funding for a robust and sustainable approach for the nation’s return to the Moon in a collaborative effort with U.S. commercial partners.” 

GAO Denies Human Landing System Protests by Blue Origin & Dynetics, Affirms SpaceX Award

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (GAO PR) — On Friday, July 30, 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied protests filed by Blue Origin Federation, LLC, of South Kent, Washington, and Dynetics, Inc. – A Leidos Company, of Huntsville, Alabama.  The protesters challenged their non-selection for awards and the award of optional contract line item numbers to Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), of Hawthorne, California, under Option A to Appendix H of Broad Agency Announcement (the announcement) No. NNH19ZCQ001K. Broad Agency Announcements typically provide for the acquisition of basic and applied research for new and creative research or development solutions to scientific and engineering problems. The rules for these procurements are not the same as those for standard competitive federal procurements, as agencies generally enjoy broader discretion in selecting the proposals most suitable to meeting their research and development needs when utilizing broad agency announcement procedures.  The announcement was issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), for a demonstration mission for a human landing system for lunar exploration.  

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NASA Awards Laser Air Monitoring System and Spacecraft Avionics Contracts for Orion

An Orion spacecraft approaches the lunar Gateway. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded Dynetics Inc. of Huntsville, Alabama, a contract to produce a Laser Air Monitoring System (LAMS) for the agency’s Orion spacecraft beginning with the Artemis III mission.

NASA has also selected Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to provide development and operations support for the avionics software suite that will guide the agency’s next generation of human rated spacecraft on missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

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Blue Origin Challenges NASA Human Lunar Landing System Award to SpaceX

Artist concept of the Blue Origin National Team crewed lander on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Blue Origin)

The New York Times reports that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has challenged NASA’s decision to award a $2.9 billion contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop the Human Landing System designed to return astronauts to the moon as part of the space agency’s Artemis program.

Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said NASA’s decision was based on flawed evaluations of the bids — misjudging advantages of Blue Origin’s proposal and downplaying technical challenges in SpaceX’s. He also said NASA had placed a bigger emphasis on bottom-line cost than it said it would.

“It’s really atypical for NASA to make these kinds of errors,” Mr. Smith said in an interview. “They’re generally quite good at acquisition, especially its flagship missions like returning America to the surface of the moon. We felt that these errors needed to be addressed and remedied.”

He added that in any case, the space agency should have stuck with a desire it had stated many times, of wanting to hand out awards to two companies.

Blue Origin’s National Team included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. Dynetics was the other unsuccessful bidder to submit a proposal.

SpaceX won the contract with a proposal that will use a version of the company’s Starship vehicle, which is currently undergoing testing in Boca Chica, Texas.

The Government Accountability Office will now review the award and render a decision.

Nelson Sails Through Senate Nomination Hearing, Backs NASA Human Landing System Award

Bill Nelson

Former senator Bill Nelson appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee this week turned into a mutual admiration society with legislators and the nominee for NASA administrator exchanging compliments and largely agreeing on the future direction of the space agency.

Barring some unexpected development, the Senate Commerce Committee should easily approve Nelson’s nomination and forward it to the full Senate, where it is likely to pass by a wide margin.

The only fireworks that were expected prior to the hearing involved NASA’s controversial decision last week to award a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to build the Human Landing System to take astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program.

Some legislators have questions the decision to award a single contract instead of making multiple awards to maintain competition and give NASA redundancy. Losing bidders included Dynetics and Blue Origin’s National Team, which included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

Nelson voiced support for the award and the goal of landing two astronauts at the lunar south pole by the end of 2024.

“I think you may be pleased that we’re gonna see that timetable try to be adhered to, but recognize that with some sobering reality that space is hard,” Nelson said.

The SpaceX contract covers an uncrewed and crewed lunar landings by the company’s Starship vehicle. NASA plans to open another competition for taking crews and cargo to the lunar surface as the agency builds a base on the moon.

Surprise! NASA Artemis Lunar Program Schedule Likely to Slip Again, 2024 Landing Unlikely

An astronaut descends the ladder to explore the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The latest in a series of updates from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) says that despite making significant progress on the $86 billion Artemis program, the space agency’s schedule for returning astronauts to the moon in four years is likely to slip. [Full report]

“Nonetheless, the Agency faces significant challenges that we believe will make its current plan to launch Artemis I in 2021 and ultimately land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024 highly unlikely,” the update said.

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SpaceX Wins Single-Source Contract for Human Landing System

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

The Washington Post is reporting that SpaceX has won a single-source contract to develop the Human Landing System (HLS) based on its Starship design that will take humans back to the moon.

SpaceX beat out Dynetics and the Blue Origin-led National team that included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. SpaceX’s $2.9 billion bid was well below that of its competitors, according to the Post.

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Dynetics Completes Human Landing System’s Preliminary Design Review

Artist concept of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Dynetics)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Feb. 25, 2021 (Dynetics PR) — Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, has successfully completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the Dynetics Human Landing System (HLS) for NASA’s Artemis Program, marking another critical milestone in human spaceflight. This review provided NASA with insight into the design of the human lander that Dynetics hopes will carry the first woman and the next man to the Moon.

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Italy Takes First Steps Towards the Moon

Lunar multi-purpose module (Credit: Italian Space Agency)

The Italian Space Agency and Thales Alenia Space Italia are at work for the American lunar exploration program Artemis.

ROME (Italian Space Agency PR) — Italy is taking its first steps towards the Moon. The country system is preparing for the great leap on the surface of our natural satellite also thanks to the international relations between Italy and the United States and between the respective space agencies ASI and NASA, which have recently intensified on the basis of the mutual interest in collaborating on the program of Artemis exploration.

Within this strategic framework, a contract was born between the Italian Space Agency and Thales Alenia Space Italia, (JV between Thales 67% and Leonardo 33%) dedicated to the feasibility study and preliminary design (phases A / B) of a multi-purpose module linked to NASA’s Artemis mission which provides a human crew on the Moon.

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Ozmens’ SNC Delivers Prototype Lunar Crew Module to Dynetics

Prototype lunar module for Dynetics Human Landing System. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

SPARKS, Nev., February 4, 2021 (SNC PR) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security company owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, delivered a prototype crew module for Dynetics’ Human Landing System (DHLS), to NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC). Dynetics is a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos. SNC is responsible for providing key technologies and system integration of the crew module as part of the Dynetics-led HLS team.

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Dynetics Achieves Critical NASA Milestone, Delivers Key Data on Lunar Lander Program

Credit: Dynetics

The company and its subcontractors complete a major step in the Human Landing System (HLS) competition while continuing to perform significant hardware and software development activities

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Jan. 6, 2021 – Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, has submitted its proposal for Option A of the Human Landing System (HLS) for NASA’s Artemis Program. The Dynetics team has also completed the HLS Continuation Review, a critical milestone during the 10-month base period, which NASA will use to assess progress on HLS hardware development and program plans.

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