NASA selects three companies for Moon Human Landing Systems | Daily News


NASA selects three companies for Moon Human Landing Systems

NASA has selected three companies to develop Human Landing Systems (HLS) to support future crewed moon landings. Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX will develop their designs over a ten month period, before a down-selection to one or two vehicles that will fly uncrewed demonstration missions. The Artemis III mission will then utilize one of these vehicles to land humans on the moon, as soon as 2024.

The three awarded designs are drastically different from each other, utilizing different numbers of stages and offering different balances between performance and schedule risk. Blue Origin was awarded $579 million for its design, which was associated with the least schedule risk of the three offerings. Dynetics was awarded $253 million, and SpaceX was awarded $135 million, noting that significant schedule risk was associated with the Starship system. The Starship and Dynetics designs, however, more closely resembled the sustainable, reusable capabilities NASA wishes to utilize in the long term.

Blue Origin’s proposal leverages experience from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper to produce a three stage lander. Each stage, or element, is launched separately aboard the New Glenn and Vulcan launch vehicles. The “National Team” has strong ties to both launch vehicles; New Glenn is operated by Blue Origin, and Vulcan utilizes Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine and Northrop Grumman’s GEM-63XL solid rocket boosters. Lockheed Martin is also a parent company of Vulcan’s operator, United Launch Alliance.

The Blue Origin vehicle can also be launched fully integrated aboard the Space Launch System (SLS), but there are currently no plans to make an SLS rocket available to launch HLS elements.

The lander is capable of docking either to the Lunar Gateway station or directly to the Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday that it is “unlikely” NASA will utilize the Gateway for initial landings.

The Descent Element is powered by two Blue Origin BE-7 engines and is an adaptation of their Blue Moon lander design. Once the surface mission is complete, the Lockheed Martin Ascent Element, based on Orion spacecraft hardware, returns to either the Lunar Gateway or Orion for the crew’s return to Earth. The Ascent Element can be refueled to perform multiple ascents from the lunar surface, utilizing new transfer and descent elements.

The HLS source selection statement released by NASA outlines the methodology behind the selections of all three awardees. In selecting the Blue Origin vehicle, NASA cited a “highly effective, human-centric approach for its rendezvous, proximity operations, docking and undocking system,” resulting in reduced crew workload and improved safety. The spaceflight experience of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman was also identified as a strength of the Blue Origin proposal.

Blue Origin’s proposal also meets or exceeds every single performance requirement set by NASA, including the long term goal values for future evolved, sustainable operations. Other strengths outlined in the Blue Origin proposal were a “comprehensive, detailed plan for training and certification of launch and mission operations personnel” and they plan to demonstrate the Descent Element in 2023. The uncrewed demonstration mission would land at the same landing site as selected for the 2024 crewed landing.

The only technical weakness identified by NASA is the power and propulsion system, which “has numerous attributes that introduce appreciable risk into its proposal.” However, the concern with the system was not attributed to a flawed design, but rather the reliance on an aggressive development timeline. The report concludes that this weakness does not outweigh the many strengths of the Blue Origin design.(NASAspaceflight)

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