Spaceflight Insider

NASA seeking proposals for human-rated lunar lander systems

An artist's illustration of a completed lunar Gateway flying around the Moon with a commercially-developed lunar lander. Image Credit: NASA

An artist’s illustration of a completed lunar Gateway flying around the Moon with a commercially-developed lunar lander. Image Credit: NASA

With SLS and Orion in the latter stages of development, NASA wants to work with industry to develop a human-rated lunar lander by the mid-to-late 2020s.

NASA is working to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1. In order to do that sustainably, the agency announced plans on Dec. 13, 2018, to work with U.S. companies to develop systems to land on the lunar surface. A formal request for proposals was published on Feb. 7, 2019, with responses due by March 25.

An artist's illustration of a human-rated lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

An artist’s illustration of a human-rated lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

“Building on our model in low-Earth orbit, we’ll expand our partnerships with industry and other nations to explore the Moon and advance our missions to farther destinations such as Mars, with America leading the way,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a NASA news release. “When we send astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next decade, it will be in a sustainable fashion.”

According to NASA, the goal is to design and develop reusable systems to land on the Moon with human-class landers being tested by 2024 and human landings by 2028.

NASA said its approach to sending humans to the moon involve three elements to provide “transfer, landing and safe return.” This involves using the lunar Gateway for round trips to and from the surface.

However, a requirement of the systems being fully reusable would mean that surface refueling would need to be developed. So in order to speed up implementation, NASA said it expects only two of the lander elements to be reusable and refueled using fuel transferred from Earth to the Gateway.

“Once the ability to harness resources from the Moon for propellant becomes viable, NASA plans to refuel these elements with the Moon’s own resources,” the agency’s announcement reads. “This process, known as in-situ resource utilization or ISRU, will make the third element also refuelable and reusable.”

An illustration of a partially completed lunar Gateway with a logistics module docked to it. Image Credit: NASA

An illustration of a partially completed lunar Gateway with a logistics module docked to it. Image Credit: NASA

This comes only a few months after NASA announced it is seeking information for cargo delivery services to the yet-to-be-built lunar Gateway.

Consisting of around six major elements, the Gateway would be much smaller than the International Space Station and placed in a highly elliptical near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon.

It would be built by SLS and Orion, with the first element potentially being launched by a commercial rocket in 2022, over the course of several years in the early-to-mid-2020s. The first crews could visit the outpost as early as 2024.

In order to supply the Gateway, NASA is seeking input from industry, and hopes to procure logistics services much like the Commercial Resupply Services contract supplying the International Space Station.

NASA said it is interested in a logistics module that can carry pressurized and unpressurized cargo and hopes to use the service at least three times, with the first mission as early as 2024.

Lockheed Martin showcased a concept for a reusable lunar lander in October 2018. Video courtesy of Lockheed Martin



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

Reader Comments

I wish more people were interested in space exploration. I go to many space sites and most times there are only one or two comments.

This will be an interesting dilemma for NASA. By the time these proposals are developed and given consideration, SpaceX may well have in place a near fully functional and reusable transportation system capable of reaching the moon.
Can Boeing and LM keep up?

I don’t really understand the “gateway” concept. It seems like a lot of wasted effort. Why not just build the habitat on the moon using the resources at hand for insulation and shielding, etc? It could start out small and then expand in the future.

The real concern is the next administration will change NASA’s focus yet again… This has been the case for decades.

Alot of space sites require number hoops to register/post. Most don’t bother. I suspect.

Gateway properly more fesible idea than going to Mars, since there alot issues with cosmic radiation they haven’t dealt with yet. This at least provides focus for the general public see America and it’s allies are doing SOMETHING with people beyond orbit. Which could stimulate other growth.

Gateway is Trump’s idea, he won’t let it die, establishment’s space companies will likely support it since it will fund politian’s base. Sadly this is way it is unless private industry get’s reason to go into space and can sustain the effort.

James Lunar Miner

The economics of doing both space dominance missions and getting cargo and Lunar Landers from low Earth orbit to various Lunar orbits will dramatically improve with the ongoing development of super propellant efficient electric propulsion powered satellites, space tugs, and third stages of launchers.

The Gateway spaceship will be an important part of our critically needed revolution in cost effective, reusable, and super propellant efficient 2,600 Isp to 14,000+ Isp space transportation systems because it will be our first human crewed electric propulsion powered spacecraft.

Trump craves success, and will shift quickly to make things happen. Even a sluggish Congress is seeing the benefit to bypass SLS and LOP-G for a direct to moon approach.

Especially when SpaceX offers it straight up.

James Lunar Miner

“According to the International Assessment and Strategy Center’s Richard Fischer, it’s doing so ‘to achieve control of low earth orbit in order to defeat the United States on Earth.’ China seeks to seize Earth’s ultimate high ground, where our communications and global positioning system satellites make our lives better every day.”

And, “As noted in a report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, ‘China is pursuing a broad and robust array of counterspace capabilities, which includes direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers, and directed energy weapons.'”

And, “It is not without reason that Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast remarked that ‘China is on a 10-year journey to operationalize space’ while we’re on what appears to be an unacceptable 50-year trajectory of leaving space.”

From: “Why NASA Needs To Beat China In The New Space Race”
By Bryan Preston 12/13/2018

If we want Space Dominance and to win our Cold War II, we need NASA, American businesses, and our Space Force to own and fly fast and highly propellant efficient nuclear powered spacecraft and Landers with much greater delta-v capabilities than the sluggishly slow, overweight, highly risky, delta-v limited, grossly propellant inefficient, and fossil fueled stainless steel Starship.

James Lunar Miner

American nuclear thermal rocket engine powered 900+ Isp Lunar and asteroid Landers will be both highly propellant efficient and cost-effective.


“Of that total, $180 million will go to Restore-L, a satellite servicing mission also previously threatened with cancellation, and $100 million to nuclear thermal propulsion research, including planning for a flight demonstration mission by 2024.”

From: Final fiscal year 2019 budget bill secures $21.5 billion for NASA
By Jeff Foust 2/17/2019

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