NASA is asking private industry to come up with ideas for another astronaut lunar lander.
The space agency is working to establish a long-term human presence on and around the moon by the end of the 2020s, through a program called Artemis. In 2021, NASA announced that it had selected spaceship from SpaceX as a lander for the program’s first crewed surface mission, Artemis 3which is due to land near the lunar south pole in 2025 or 2026.
In March this year, agency officials said they planned to encourage the development of a second crewed lander for Artemis, to ensure program redundancy and resilience. That plan became official today (September 16) when NASA issued a call for proposals from private companies.
Related: NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program
“The work being done under this solicitation, in addition to current lander development and ongoing studies, will help lay the foundation for long-term deep space exploration,” said Lisa Watson- Morgan, Human Landing System program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight. Center in Alabama, said in a statement today (opens in a new tab).
“Partnering with American companies to do this work now allows us to leverage NASA’s knowledge and expertise to encourage technological innovations for a sustained presence at the moon“Watson-Morgan said.
NASA released a draft of the new solicitation on March 31 and held a virtual “industry day” about it in April before releasing the final call today, agency officials said. Proposals must be submitted by November 15 of this year. Companies selected under the contract will be required to perform two demonstration flights to the lunar surface, one uncrewed and one crewed.
The contract SpaceX already has with NASA has a similar requirement; the crewed test flight is part of the Artemis 3 mission.
However SpaceX apparently won’t be allowed to bid on the new contract, NASA wants Starship to be part of the Artemis program for the long haul. NASA officials said in today’s statement that they plan to exercise an option in SpaceX’s existing contract, asking the company to evolve its Artemis 3 spacecraft design “to meet a set expanded requirements for sustaining moon missions and performing another crewed demonstration landing.”
The Artemis program could gain momentum in a matter of days. NASA is preparing for the program’s first-ever test flight, Artemis 1who will use a Space Launch System rocket to send an Orion capsule on an uncrewed journey to lunar orbit and back.
Artemis 1 was originally scheduled to launch on August 29, but technical issues delayed the takeoff attempt several times. The agency is currently targeting September 27 for the launch.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).