Human Landing System (HLS)

The President’s Space Policy Directive (SPD)-1 instructs NASA to “Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

Additionally, on March 26, 2019, Vice President Mike Pence announced “It is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the Moon within the next five years.” The Human Landing System (HLS) Integrated Lander is a key capability of NASA’s strategy to accomplish the return to the Moon referenced in SPD-1.

The HLS Integrated Lander will be crewed at Gateway, in lunar orbit, and will deliver the crew to the lunar surface, provide capabilities for lunar extra-vehicular activities, and then return the crew to Gateway for their return to Earth. In order to meet these goals and directives, NASA seeks to develop the HLS utilizing publicprivate engagements that will reduce the cost of developing the HLS, reduce the time required for the development cycle, and enhance U.S. competitiveness in the global space industry.

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.”

Human Landing System Human Landing System

NASA intended to release a solicitation under the second Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) BAA to seek proposals from industry for the development of integrated human lunar landers and execution of crewed flight demonstrations to the lunar surface by 2024. The primary objective of this NextSTEP-2 Appendix H BAA (HLS - Integrated Lander) is to enable the rapid development of a safe and functional human landing system (HLS) that can meet NASA and industry requirements and execute a crewed demonstration mission of HLS to the Moon no later than 2024. To achieve long-term lunar lander sustainability, this BAA also has a contract option that NASA may elect to exercise for the development and, in 2026, demonstration of a sustainable HLS Integrated Lander in order to enable more permanent human access to the lunar surface. NASA anticipates that it will initially award multiple HLS contracts, followed by potential down-selection among these HLS contractors as work progresses through the exercise of options at various stages of the development effort.

The HLS shall be capable of conducting an automated uncrewed sortie to the lunar surface. The HLS shall deliver at least 1,000 kg from the Gateway to the lunar surface. The HLS shall be capable of operating on the lunar surface for a minimum of 6.5 earth days. The initial HLS shall provide a habitable environment for two crew for an 8 earth day lunar sortie without pre-emplaced surface infrastructure. The HLS shall provide a habitable environment for a four crew lunar sortie with pre-emplaced surface infrastructure. The HLS shall be capable of supporting EVA excursions lasting a minimum of 8 hours. The HLS shall be capable of returning scientific payload of at least 100 kg and 0.16 m^3 volume, inclusive of tare.

NASA will: specify the minimum NASA HLS requirements allowing the contractor to tailor their design to best address their commercial interests; launch on industry-procured, commercial launch vehicles; utilize of commercial practices, standards, specifications, and processes; and utilize a collaborative approach with inline NASA subject matter expertise, as requested by the contractors. Each of these items represent a significant change in how NASA has traditionally worked with industry. These changes are being made to promote shared benefit between the public and private entities.

Join the mailing list

US Policy Toward Africa: Eight Decades of Realpolitik - Herman J Cohen's Latest Book