Senate orders NASA to choose another company to build a lunar lander: report

The largest committee in the United States Senate wants NASA to choose a second company to build its new lander.

In April this year, NASA announced that only SpaceX had won the contract to build the agency’s next lunar lander for its Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the surface of the moon by 2024 and create a sustainable human presence on our nearby satellite. This came as a surprise, as many expected the agency to choose two of the three companies competing for the contract to keep them competitive and have a backup.

After many legal exchanges following NASA’s original decision, the Senate Appropriations Committee is directing NASA to now choose a second company to develop a manned lunar lander, according to SpaceNews. However, this direction came with only a small increase in funding.

Related: NASA Halts Human Lunar Lander Work With SpaceX Amid Blue Origin Lawsuit

NASA’s original decision to award this contract to build and develop a lunar lander, or Human Landing System (HLS), only to SpaceX was met with a strong protest from the other two companies in the race at the time: Blue Origin and Dynetics. In fact, they filed formal protests against the decision trying to get the agency to reconsider and add a second company; Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos even wrote an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson requesting a contract, offering to cover up to $ 2 billion of the cost. This did not work and the company filed a federal lawsuit against NASA for its decision, a legal option that temporarily put HLS development on hold.

But it seems that Blue Origin may get his wish after all. On Tuesday (October 18), the Senate Appropriations Committee, the largest U.S. Senate committee that oversees all discretionary spending legislation in the Senate, released a preliminary report of nine appropriation bills. for fiscal year 2022 that included funding for NASA, according to SpaceNews. .

The appropriators, in the report, claim that NASA’s HLS program is underfunded, despite the agency’s earlier claims to the contrary. As the report shows, the bill includes $ 24.83 billion for NASA, which is just slightly more than the $ 24.8 billion NASA requested, and a $ 100 million increase in funding. for HLS.

“NASA’s rhetoric of blaming Congress and this Committee for the lack of resources necessary to support two HLS teams rings hollow,” the report states. The committee added that “having at least two teams serving using the Gateway should be the ultimate goal of the current development program,” referring to NASA’s Gateway, a planned lunar space station.

Discussing the slight increase in funding for HLS, the report goes on to say that “with this funding, NASA is expected to ensure redundancy and competition, including strong support for research, development, testing and evaluation for no less than two HLS teams. “

The report directs NASA to give Congress a plan showing how it will bring in a second HLS team and support them through the Artemis program. This means that NASA’s plan, which the agency must deliver to Congress within 30 days after the bill becomes law, will need to include budget projections for the next few years, through 2026, according to SpaceNews.

While NASA will have to figure out how to make this small budget increase spread across two HLS contracts, Administrator Nelson has previously stated his confidence in NASA’s ability to secure the necessary Congressional funding to support a second landing contract. lunar. He has also shared his optimism for the future of the agency in general, despite the budget challenges and difficulties that arose with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@ or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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