NASA looks beyond SpaceX for future lunar landers

NASA has announced that it is welcoming lunar lander concepts from commercial companies other than SpaceX, which already has a contract to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon in the mid-2020s as part of the Artemis program.

Accepted designs will be able to transport astronauts and equipment between the orbiting Gateway station and the lunar surface as part of NASA’s long-term goal to create a sustainable human presence on the moon, with a view to using the base as a springboard for the first manned mission to Mars.

“Under Artemis, NASA will conduct a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the moon to prepare for humanity’s next great leap: a manned mission to Mars,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson on Wednesday, March 23. “Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond so that we have the ability to conduct a range of missions over the next decade.”

NASA confirmed that it is following two routes for the development of the lunar lander, one with SpaceX, which was awarded a contract in April 2021 to build the next-generation lander based on the design of its Starship spacecraft, and another that other US companies will use. invites a lander on a new landing demonstration mission from lunar orbit to the lunar surface.

The US space agency also confirmed that, as part of its existing contract, it wants SpaceX to plan a second moon landing mission that meets NASA’s requirements for recurring services.

This upcoming award that will evoke the involvement of commercial companies other than SpaceX is called the Sustaining Lunar Development contract and will ultimately give NASA more options and additional capabilities when it comes to transporting crew and equipment to the lunar surface.

“This strategy accelerates progress toward long-term sustainable lander capacity as early as 2026 or 2027,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System program, said this week.

NASA’s renewed interest in lunar exploration will soon see humans stepping on the moon’s surface for the first time since 1972. For that, the agency needs to test the hardware that will take the crew all the way to our nearest neighbor. This includes the maiden flight of NASA’s new SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on a flyby of the moon on the unmanned Artemis I mission, which could launch as early as May.

Artemis II will follow the same route, but with a crew on board, while Artemis III will see astronauts return to the lunar surface before the end of this decade.

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