August 19, 2022
NASA

NASA is looking beyond SpaceX for human moon lander

When Elon Musk announced in September. That he would be working with NASA on a second privately funded company. To develop a human moon lander alongside SpaceX, many people were extremely excited. As this will be the first time humanity has seen such an accomplishment since the Apollo missions.

Details about NASA and SpaceX human moon lander

Now, it seems that NASA is already considering a second company to pitch in on the project.

This new opportunity will be called the Sustaining Lunar Development contract (SLDC). And it will help provide NASA with additional support towards achieving its goal of putting humans back on the surface of the moon.

NASA contracts with SpaceX

Once again, NASA is partnering with commercial space companies to get this done. But this time they are asking for companies other than SpaceX to pitch in as well.

The agency set aside $55 million in 2019 to fund this contract. But with a target launch date of 2026 or 2027, it will be interesting to see who gets involved and what kind of technology we can expect for such a mission.

NASA on Moon

NASA is already hard at work on the Moon. On Wednesday, Oct 31, NASA announced that it will have more information about the Moon for potential missions by 2028. This will be great news for a number of people including scientists and commercial companies. For example, SpaceX is working on a mission to deliver cargo to the lunar surface in 2019. This would be an important step in turning around our history of space exploration, as well as transforming America into a true space-faring nation once again.

The administration yesterday revealed a strategy for space exploration that included partnerships with Boeing, SpaceX, and other private companies on their human moon lander missions. It’s the first step in NASA’s exploration of the moon before landing humans on Mars.

“What we want to do is build a gateway, something specific for the moon,” Robert Lightfoot, acting administrator at NASA, said on a call with reporters. “We’re frankly looking at international partnerships.” The new draft request for proposals will be out by the end of the month, according to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

NASA

In order to meet its deadlines, NASA would leverage existing contracts and capabilities as well as commercial launches. And while it’s likely that SpaceX would be one of the companies that could partake in the development efforts (considering they’re working on their own Crew Dragon), Zurbuchen did not mention any specific company by name.

Future projects

“We’re going to go through this and look at the flight opportunities, commercial flights … we want to make sure that we can be ready to go by 2022,” he said.

“This is what we’re calling a ‘sustaining lunar development’ contract,” said Brian Kelly, project manager for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “It’s really about whether or not there’s a successful company out there in the marketplace that may want to partner with us in some way as we proceed forward.”

Required proposal

The first step in this process is for private companies to submit proposals about what they can do for NASA and how they could contribute. The details of what NASA will require out of these proposals have not yet been released, but the agency said that they’ll be available by November.

NASA’s plan also calls for an early phase called “Proving Ground”. Kelly said this would be a way “to pull together commercial and international partners and work with them to validate tools and technologies, test them in the right environment, and then move forward.”

The timeline of all of these things is still pretty fuzzy. NASA expects to choose a winner in the next year or so. Though it’s clear that the space agency is already trying to get people as excited about this potential mission as possible.

“We’re leveraging our leadership position,” Lightfoot said. “We’re ready to go. We’ve been getting ready for when this opportunity comes.”

Perhaps we’ll see a new human lander at the same time as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

Competition between SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Boeing

Competition is the American way and it is great for the consumer. In the case of human spaceflight, competition between SpaceX, Boeing, and Blue Origin will force companies to develop new technology more quickly, and thus bring humans back to the moon faster.

Elon Musk plans to take humans to Mars by 2024. While NASA has a similar goal of taking humans back to the moon by 2024. It will be interesting who gets there first as they will have a technological advantage.

Blue Origin currently has contracts with NASA that are worth $500M over 5 years. A lunar lander could bring them even more business in the future.

The United States space agency NASA has asked a number of companies to develop a space-faring nation’s moon lander. As well as a space-ready lunar habitat. A key requirement within the request was that the spacecraft should be able to stack up alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. Which is currently under development at the Hawthorne-based company.

NASA will announce its intent for the “SLDC” (Sustaining Lunar Development) contract on 11 November with proposals due by 20 January 2023.

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