Human Landing System
NASA released a solicitation under Appendix E of the second Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) to seek proposals from industry in support of design analysis, technology maturation, system development and integration, and spaceflight demonstrations for a human lunar landing system. • Sizing for 4 crew lunar landings with an option of as few as 2 crew.
Proposals were received 25 March 2019. As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA announced plans on 13 December 2018 to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. At that time the agency was planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface in 2028. Through multi-phased lunar exploration partnerships, NASA is asking American companies to study the best approach to landing astronauts on the Moon and start the development as quickly as possible with current and future anticipated technologies.
“Building on our model in low-Earth orbit, we’ll expand our partnerships with industry and other nations to explore the Moon and advance our missions to farther destinations such as Mars, with America leading the way,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “When we send astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next decade, it will be in a sustainable fashion.”
The full architecture will include a Descent Element, Ascent Element, Transfer Vehicle, Refueling Element, and Surface Suit. NASA plans to launch the first demonstration mission in 2024. The minimum objective of this mission is to demonstrate a lunar surface landing with one or more Descent Elements capable of supporting a future human lander that includes both Descent Element and Ascent Element.
On May 16, 2019 NASA announced that it had 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.”
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