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SPACE: NASA Selects Five Companies For Lunar Lander Studies

by Jeff Foust —
Blue Origin and two of its “National Team” teammates, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, each won NASA awards Sept. 14 to support studies of future “sustainable” lunar lander services. Credit: Blue Origin

— NASA will provide $146 million to five companies, representing the three teams that previously competed to develop the Artemis lunar lander, to perform studies for future lunar lander concepts.

NASA announced Sept. 14 the awards for what the agency calls Appendix N of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP). NASA published a request to proposals for NextSTEP AppendixN in July. This was to support NASA’s work on “sustainable” human landing system concepts that NASA believes will support future missions after Artemis 3.

Three of the awardees are part of the so-called “National Team” led by Blue Origin, which received $25.6 million. Lockheed Martin received $35.2 million and Northrop Grumman $34.8 million.

While the three companies received individual awards, a Lockheed executive confirmed they are still participating in the Blue Origin-led team while also studying other options. “Lockheed Martin remains committed to the National Team’s thoughtful, safe, and sustainable lander system,” Lisa Callahan (Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin) stated in a statement to SpaceNews.

“As a trusted NASA partner, it is important that we provide additional approaches to shape the strategy for both sustainable human presence on Mars and future human missions to Mars.” she said.

The Blue Origin-led team was among three bidders to the Human Landing System program (HLS), where NASA funds development and demonstration missions for a lunar lander. Dynetics, another HLS bidder, received $40.8 million.

Both Blue Origin’s National Team and Dynetics lost to SpaceX, which won a $2.9 billion award in April for a lunar lander based on its Starship vehicle. SpaceX was also awarded an Appendix N award worth $9.4million, which is the lowest of five NASA awards.

Neither NASA nor any of the companies disclosed details of what they plan to do with the awards. NASA stated that the funds would be used to support concept studies and risk reduction activities and allow companies to provide feedback on NASA’s requirements regarding crewed human landing services.

Appendix N is intended to be a bridge for NASA’s Lunar Exploration Transportation Services (LETS) program, where NASA will buy crewed lunar landing services for later Artemis missions, much as it does commercial crew and cargo services for the International Space Station.

Blue Origin in particular had been pushing back against this approach, arguing it puts companies other than SpaceX, with its HLS award, at a disadvantage in a future LETS competition. Blue Origin and Dynetics protested NASA’s HLS award to Government Accountability Office. They claimed that NASA’s decision not to award a single HLS award was in violation of the terms.

The GAO rejected those claims in July, but Blue Origin filed a suit against the government in the Court of Federal Claims Aug. 13 to appeal that decision. In an effort to speed up the case, NASA’s HLS award was voluntary stayed by the government for SpaceX until Nov. 1. During the GAO’s review, the award was also halted.

NASA has expressed its desire to make a second HLS award, but currently lacks the funding to do so. Agency officials, including Administrator Bill Nelson, asked Congress to provide additional funding in either the agency’s fiscal year 2022 spending bill or a separate $3.5 trillion “budget reconciliation” spending package. The House version of the 2022 appropriations bill included only a small increase in HLS funding, while the House version of the budget reconciliation package offers nothing for HLS. Both versions of the bills are still being worked on by the Senate.

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