NASA Astronaut Moon Lander Plans Expand Beyond SpaceX Starship

NASA Artemis Astronaut Moon Lander Plans

NASA is seeking lander concepts from American companies to transport astronauts between lunar orbit and the surface for missions after Artemis III, which will land the first astronauts on the Moon in over 50 years.

As NASA makes strides to return humans to the lunar surface under Artemis, the agency announced plans Wednesday to create additional opportunities for commercial companies to develop an astronaut Moon lander.

Under this new approach, NASA is asking American companies to propose lander concepts capable of ferrying astronauts between lunar orbit and the lunar surface for missions beyond Artemis III, which will land the first astronauts on the Moon in more than 50 years.

Built and operated according to NASA’s long-term requirements at the Moon, new landers will have the capability to dock to a lunar orbiting space station known as Gateway, increase crew capacity, and transport more science and technology to the surface.

Artemis Astronaut Looking Out of Moon Lander Hatch

An illustration of a suited Artemis astronaut looking out of a Moon lander hatch across the lunar surface, the Lunar Terrain Vehicle, and other surface elements. Credit: NASA

“Under Artemis, NASA will carry out a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap for humanity: a crewed mission to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to carry out a cadence of missions over the next decade. Thank you to the Biden Administration and Congress for their support of this new astronaut lander opportunity, which will ultimately strengthen and increase flexibility for Artemis.”

NASA’s plans call for long-term lunar exploration and include landing the first woman and first person of color on the Moon as part of future Artemis missions. The agency is pursuing two parallel paths for continuing lunar lander development and demonstration, one that calls for additional work under an existing contract with SpaceX, and another open to all other U.S. companies to provide a new landing demonstration mission from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon.

Gateway Lunar Platform Orbiting the Moon

This illustration shows the Gateway lunar platform orbiting the Moon. Credit: NASA

In April 2021, NASA selected SpaceX as its partner to land the next American astronauts on the lunar surface. That demonstration mission is targeted for no earlier than April 2025. Exercising an option under the original award, NASA now is asking SpaceX to transform the company’s proposed human landing system into a spacecraft that meets the agency’s requirements for recurring services for a second demonstration mission. Pursuing more development work under the original contract maximizes NASA’s investment and partnership with SpaceX.

To bring a second entrant to market for the development of a lunar lander in parallel with SpaceX, NASA will issue a draft solicitation in the coming weeks. This upcoming activity will lay out requirements for future development and demonstration of lunar landing capability to take astronauts between orbit and the surface of the Moon. This effort is meant to maximize NASA’s support for competition and provides redundancy in services to help ensure NASA’s ability to transport astronauts to the lunar surface.

SpaceX Starship Human Lunar Lander

Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry the first NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. Credit: SpaceX

This upcoming second contract award, known as the Sustaining Lunar Development contract, combined with the second option under SpaceX’s original landing award, will pave the way to future recurring lunar transportation services for astronauts at the Moon.

“This strategy expedites progress toward a long-term, sustaining lander capability as early as the 2026 or 2027 timeframe,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “We expect to have two companies safely carry astronauts in their landers to the surface of the Moon under NASA’s guidance before we ask for services, which could result in multiple experienced providers in the market.”

After the new draft solicitation is published, NASA will host a virtual industry day. Once comments and questions from the draft solicitation process have been reviewed, the agency plans to issue the formal request for proposals this summer.

Astronaut Moon landers are a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, ground systems, and Gateway. NASA is committed to using a commercial astronaut lunar lander to carry the astronauts to the surface of the Moon, expanding exploration and preparing humanity for the next giant leap, human exploration of Mars.

4 Comments on "NASA Astronaut Moon Lander Plans Expand Beyond SpaceX Starship"

  1. Robert Johnson | March 23, 2022 at 8:51 pm | Reply

    From what I have seen,we have been to Mars.

  2. EXPENSIVE “grease” for Lunar and Martian “colonisation” which is quite probably a century in the Future. By then, Earth might well be a blasted shell, swamped with risen Oceans and devoid of accessible resources… all for Proprietary (and EXPENSIVE) “pie in the Sky” technology.
    Aiming your Rocket Man phallus at two Dead “Worlds”? Why not leave TODAY? And give those who respect the World in which we LIVE the option to repair some of the damage (Past, Present and Future) done in the name of Cost Effective “Progress”.
    Leave today on your Fools’ Errand. After all, Today IS the first day of the rest of your life, there RALPHIE; HOWEVER BRIEF.
    Goodbye Columbus. Welcome to The EXPANSE! [Sound effects OPTIONAL!] It’s that Space between your ears.

  3. So this is an opportunity for bezos to attempt another bid on a moon lander. Why nasa should even consider them considering their unfounded lawsuits and attempts to block the first landings is a testament to the US’s willingness to withstand b#%^s#%t. Bezos has failed to deliver on rocket engines and failed to deliver a competitive bid before- if he was applying for a job at his own companies he would not be selected why should the public put up with him? There really established companies that while old fashioned can do this. They just need to start fresh company’s so they can combine agility with experience.

  4. Hari varma Datla | April 9, 2022 at 7:49 am | Reply


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