Eleven space companies will share more than $ 45 million in funds from NASA to design and test prototypes for the Artemis lunar missions, the agency has announced. Among the established names such as Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada, the relative newcomers are SpaceX and Blue Origin, who are looking for a place for themselves at the agency's biggest push in decades.
The funds must allow what NASA calls undefined contract actions, in which partners go to work before negotiations on the remainder of the contract are completed. It actually shows that time is essential and that NASA is willing to pay in advance to someone with whom they may not even contract later, just to make a leap with the work that needs to be done.
And what's the job? They will make designs and prototypes for the Human Landing System, of which you will, as you might think, take astronauts (and cosmonauts and perhaps taikonauts) from a high moon orbit to a low, then to the surface and then back. The three elements are called transfer, descent and ascent respectively – and there is also a refueling.
Each company will have a specific set of mechanisms or designs that are expected to be produced, but none are expected to compile the entire inventory.
"We are keen to gather early industry feedback on our human landing system requirements, and the undefined contract action will help us with that," said NASA's Greg Chavers in a press release. "This new approach does not prescribe any specific design or number of elements for the human landing system. NASA needs the system to bring our astronauts to the surface and bring them back safely, and we leave many of the details to our commercial partners. "
In other words, this is still a phase of information gathering for NASA, although contractors must consider it potentially the first step in producing an important system for Artemis so that they can do nothing with half.
None of the companies were assigned design work to the ascender, suggesting that the plans for that part are not as advanced as the rest. SpaceX will produce a study on the descent element, while Blue Origin will conduct studies on the descent and transfer elements, plus a prototype for the latter.
We are unlikely to see these prototypes or studies soon – if they are not selected for production, they may remain trade secrets for future bids or by chance NASA changes its mind. Even if they are chosen, they may have to go through several iterations before they can be shown publicly.
Here is the full list of companies and their responsibilities under the new financing:
- Aerojet Rocketdyne – Canoga Park, California
- An investigation with transfer vehicles
- Blue Origin – Kent, Washington
- Unit study with one department, a study of a transfer vehicle and a prototype of a transfer vehicle
- Boeing – Houston
- Study of unit department, two prototypes of descent elements, a study of a transfer vehicle, a prototype of a transfer vehicle, an investigation into the refueling of elements and a prototype of a refueling element
- Dynetics – Huntsville, Alabama
- Study with one descent element and five prototypes with descent elements
- Lockheed Martin – Littleton, Colorado
- Unity study with descent, prototypes with four descent elements, an investigation into transfer vehicles and an investigation into refueling elements
- Masten Space Systems – Mojave, California
- Prototype of one descent element
- Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – Dulles, Virginia
- Study of unit department, prototypes of prototypes with four descents, an investigation into refueling of elements and a prototype of a prototype for refueling
- OrbitBeyond – Edison, New Jersey
- Two prototypes for refueling elements
- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin
- Study of unit study, prototype of a descent element, a study of a transfer vehicle, a prototype of a transfer vehicle and a study into the refilling of fuel
- SpaceX – Hawthorne, California
- Study from one origin
- SSL – Palo Alto, California
- One refueling study and one prototype for refueling elements