Science

NASA solicits proposals for second lunar lander for Artemis astronauts

NASA is asking the private industry to come up with ideas for another astronaut lander to the Moon.

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 a SpaceX spacecraft as the lander for the program’s first crewed ground mission, Artemis 3, due to land near the moon’s south pole in 2025 or 2026.

In March of this year, agency officials said they plan to support the development of a second crewed lander for Artemis to ensure the program is redundant and sustainable. The plan became official today (September 16) when NASA announced it was accepting proposals from private companies.

Related: NASA Artemis Lunar Exploration Program

“The work done in response to this request, in addition to ongoing lander development and ongoing research, will help lay the foundation for long-term deep space exploration,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA Marshall Space Flight Human Landing System Program Manager. Center in Alabama, according to a statement today. (will open in a new tab).

“Partnering with US companies to carry out this work now allows us to use NASA’s knowledge and experience to encourage technological innovation for a sustainable presence on the Moon,” said Watson-Morgan.

NASA released a draft of the new request on March 31 and held a virtual “industry day” about it in April before announcing the final draft today, the agency said. Proposals must be submitted by November 15 this year. The companies selected under the contract will be required to perform two demonstration flights to the lunar surface, one uncrewed and one crewed.

The contract that SpaceX has already awarded to NASA contains a similar requirement; the crewed test flight is part of the Artemis 3 mission.

While SpaceX apparently won’t be allowed to bid on the new contract, NASA wants Starship to be part of the Artemis program long term. NASA officials said in a statement today that they plan to take advantage of an option in SpaceX’s existing contract to ask the company to refine its Artemis 3 spacecraft design “to meet an expanded set of requirements to support missions to the Moon and conduct another crewed demonstration landing.”

The Artemis program could gain momentum in a matter of days. NASA is preparing for the first-ever test flight of the Artemis 1 program, which will use the Space Launch System rocket to send the Orion capsule on an unmanned journey to and from lunar orbit.

Artemis 1 was supposed to launch on August 1st. 29, but technical problems delayed the launch attempt several times. The agency is currently targeting September 27 for the launch.

Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).

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