NASA requested a proposal for a second moon lander for the Artemis astronauts
The agency wants another crewed Artemis lander in its fleet, along with SpaceX’s massive Starship vehicle.
NASA is asking private industry to come up with ideas for another astronaut moon lander.
The space agency is working to establish a long-term human presence on and around the Moon by the end of 2020 through a program called Artemis. In 2021, NASA announced that it had selected SpaceX’s Starship as the lander for the program’s first crewed surface mission, Artemis 3, which would touch down near the Moon’s south pole in 2025 or 2026.
In March of this year, agency officials said they planned to promote the development of a second crewed lander for Artemis, which would provide redundancy and flexibility for the program. The plan became official today (September 16), when NASA called for proposals from private companies.
“The work under this request, in addition to current lander development and ongoing studies, will help lay the foundation for long-term deep space exploration,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager of the Human Landing System Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight. center in Alabama, said in a statement today (opens in new tab).
“Partnering with American companies to do that work allows us to leverage NASA’s knowledge and expertise to promote technological innovation for a continued presence on the Moon,” Watson-Morgan said.
NASA released a draft of the new request on March 31 and held a virtual “industry day” about it in April before issuing a final call today, agency officials said. Proposals are due by November 15 this year. The companies selected under the contract are required to conduct two demonstration flights to the moon surface, one uncrewed and one crewed.
A contract SpaceX already has with NASA has a similar requirement; The crew test flight is part of the Artemis 3 mission.
Although SpaceX apparently won’t be allowed to bid on a new contract, NASA wants the starship to be part of the Artemis program. NASA officials said in a statement today that they plan to exercise an option in SpaceX’s existing contract, asking the company to “develop the Artemis 3 starship design to meet expanded requirements to sustain missions to the Moon and perform another crew demonstration landing.”
The Artemis program could pick up serious steam in a matter of days. NASA is gearing up for the program’s first-ever test flight, Artemis 1, which will use a Space Launch System rocket to send the Orion capsule to moon orbit and back.
Artemis 1 was originally scheduled to launch on August 29, but the liftoff attempt was delayed several times due to technical difficulties. The agency is currently targeting September 27 for launch.