NASA selects three companies to develop lunar landers
NASA announced on April 30, 2020 that it had selected three companies to develop lunar landers for its Artemis program.
On April 30, 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that three American companies have been selected to design and develop a next-generation human-rated lunar lander intended to bring American Astronauts back to the moon by 2024. As part of NASA’s Artemis Program, NASA will select one company’s design to act as the designated lander for the program. These companies include SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics.
SpaceX will utilize their already-in-development single-stage design affectionately known as Starship. Originally proposed as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), SpaceX began initial concept work on the super-heavy launch vehicle in 2016. Its original intent was to receive funding for a future private space venture known as #dearMoon. The company is currently building and testing their Serial Number 4 (SN-4) Starship test article in Boca Chica, TX. One of the ship’s design attributes calls for a type of in-space refueling utilizing two separate Starship Vehicles. Before Starship can ferry humans to the moon, SpaceX will need to perform an uncrewed test landing before a fully integrated lander can be certified to transport astronauts to the lunar surface. In order to transport Starship to the moon, the company will use its Super Heavy Rocket first-stage Rocket, currently in development.
Dynetics, a Leidos company, of Huntsville, Alabama, is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System which will include contributions from several partners. The unique, low-slung crew module calls for horizontally acclimated drop tanks during descent to the lunar surface. The lander will feature a flexible array of launching and docking capabilities, as it will be able to utilize NASA’s Space Launch System or the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket. However, because NASA does not intend to use SLS for the Lunar Landing Program, it is very likely the craft will utilize Vulcan. Once in lunar orbit, the spacecraft will have the capability to dock to either NASA’s Orion or The Lunar Gateway Space Station.
Blue Origin of Kent, Washington will develop the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) three stage lander to be launched on its own New Glenn Rocket System and ULA Vulcan Launch System. Blue Origin will act as the prime designer and builder, alongside Lockheed Martin, Northop Grumman and Draper Lab. The three stage architecture (lander) will consist of ascent, descent and lunar transfer elements launched separately between Blue Origin’s New Glenn and ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicles. Much like Dynetics’ lander, Blue Origin’s design will be able to utilize Gateway or Orion for lunar docking capabilities.
There were only six crewed US landings between 1969 and 1972. It’s been 50 years since it was proven it was possible to land humans on the moon and return them safely to earth. These companies have until February 2021 to refine their lander concepts, during that time, NASA will evaluate which companies will perform initial demonstration missions. NASA will later select firms for development of a sustainable lander system following a sustainable demonstration mission. NASA will then procure transportation to the lunar surface after these demonstrations are complete. NASA will assign personnel to support the work of each contractor as requested in their proposals providing non-similar redundancy.
The Artemis Program is named after NASA met the challenge with the Apollo program, landing the first man on the Moon on July 20, 1969. That program was named after a god of Greek mythology, Apollo. Artemis was Apollo’s twin sister and the goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology. This next generation of NASA astronauts are once again taking the next giant leap to the lunar surface with the intent of learning how to live sustainably on the moon. If NASA can successfully prove that humans and robots are capable of establishing a semi-permanent outpost on the lunar surface, the agency will then be able to set its sights on the ultimate goal of sending humans to Mars.
Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.