NASA in Washington announced on May 16th that it has selected 11 companies to start studies and initial prototype development of portions of lunar landers the agency hopes can help it meet its 2024 human landing goal.
The awards are part of Next Space Technologies of NASA for Exploration Partnerships series of broad agency announcements which support public-private partnerships for developing technologies required for NASA’s exploration plans. Companies getting these awards are needed to make their own contributions in addition to NASA’s combined funding of $45.5 million.
These companies present a wide cross-section of the commercial space industry, from established aerospace companies to emerging startups:
The awards are for human lander studies formally called NextSTEP Appendix E. Those studies are limited to descent stages, transfer vehicles and refueling elements. The agency was planning to conduct studies on lander ascent modules within the agency when NASA released the NextSTEP solicitation Feb. 7.
The NextSTEP Appendix E proposals were due at NASA March 25. The next day, Mike Pence, Vice President, informed in a speech that the White House was directing NASA for accelerating the timeline for a human lunar landing from 2028 to 2024. Subsequently, NASA said that it will solicit proposals for integrated lander systems under a separate NextSTEP procurement, Appendix H, while continuing the Appendix E lunar lander work.
The awards need companies to pay at least 20 percent of the overall cost of each study or prototype project, with the work to be completed in six months. For allowing the companies to begin work instantly, NASA is using an approach known as “undefinitized contract actions” so that companies can initiate work while the contract terms are still being negotiated.
Greg Chavers, human landing system formulation manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in an agency statement about the awards that they are keen for collecting early industry feedback about our human landing system needs, and the undefinitized contract action will help them do that.
The lower value of the awards and the tight timeline will limit the scope of the work. Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations said that in the first study phase they are actually going to build some prototype hardware. They are going to build some pumps, some cooling systems and other pieces. He also said that NASA engineers may be embedded in some of those companies as part of the prototype development.
The NextSTEP Appendix E awards announcement hasn’t discussed the details of each company’s work beyond whether they were doing studies or prototype development, and for what part of the lunar lander architecture. Whereas, some companies have showed their plans for lunar lander systems, like Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander; company officials previously said they submitted a NextSTEP proposal.
By: Preeti Narula