In a call to industry seeking proposals for human lunar landing systems, NASA has announced that the first company to complete a lunar lander will carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024. The mission will be the first to carry human beings to the lunar surface since Apollo 17 in December 1972.
In a September 20 press release, NASA revealed that it has begun seeking proposals for human lunar landing systems for the agency’s Artemis program. In an effort to accelerate the process and incentivize companies, the agency promised that the first to complete its lander would win the right to carry the maiden Artemis mission to the lunar surface in 2024. The second will secure the follow-on mission set for 2025.
The call to submit proposals for a lunar lander comes after the agency issued two separate drafts on July 19 and August 30. Potential applicants were encouraged to submit comments and help shape the procurement process.
“In order to best accelerate our return to the Moon and prepare for Mars, we collaborated with industry on ideas to streamline the procurement process,” said Marshall Smith, director of the Human Lunar Exploration Program at NASA in Washington. “The private sector was eager to provide us feedback throughout this process, and we received more than 1,150 comments on the draft solicitations issued over the summer.”
Following its collaboration with industry partners, NASA amended the procurement process and mission requirements making several significant updates. One such update was the removal of a design element that required any potential lander to have the ability to be refueled. The requirement had initially been included to ensure a more “sustainable exploration architecture”. However, ultimately the agency concluded that long-term affordability was more important to sustainability than the ability to refuel.
“They were absolutely right,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, Human Landing System program manager at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center. “We are operating on a timeline that requires us to be flexible to encourage innovation and alternate approaches. We still welcome the option to refuel the landing system, but we removed it as a requirement.”
Proposals to produce human lunar landing systems for NASA’s Artemis program are due on November 1. Although seemingly short notice, the agency is confident that the work companies have gone through over the two previous drafts should enable them to make the tight deadline.