Last week, NASA postponed plans for two important contracts for manned lunar lander projects as part of Donald Trump’s accelerated program to get astronauts to the moon by 2024. The new administration is expected to deal with more pressing national issues.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics, owned by military contractor Leidos, won $ 967 million in initial funding from NASA last year to develop competing concepts for a human landing system on the moon. This is the space agency’s first investment in astronaut lunar landing missions since the Apollo program in the 1970s.
NASA told three contractors last Wednesday that it needs a delay until April 30 to finalize contracts for further funding. At the same time, according to the schedule of the Trump administration, the agency should have chosen two winners at the end of February, whose systems would deliver people to the moon.
The delay was expected: the budget passed by Congress in December provided NASA with only $ 850 million under the “Human Landing System”, which is much less than the $ 3.2 billion previously allocated under the program until 2024, which NASA has not yet abandoned.
NASA attributes the delay to the need for additional time to evaluate the bidders’ proposals, but added that depending on the circumstances, the conclusion of contracts may take place earlier than the designated date. The agency also says it will give participants additional time to tweak their systems.
SpaceX’s lunar lander is Starship, a fully reusable vehicle that the company performs in short test flights at altitudes of more than 10 km – the so-called “jumps” – at its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. The company received $ 135 million in seed funding for the development of this ship.
Blue Origin got the largest share of the pie, $ 579 million, to develop the Blue Moon lander. In 2019, the company announced the creation of a national aerospace team of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to work on the project. Finally Dynetics received $ 253 million for its lander and partnered with Sierra Nevada Corp.
Jim Bridenstine, the Trump-appointed NASA chief and initiator of the Artemis program in 2018, stepped down on inauguration day, handing over the agency to his assistant Steve Jurczyk as acting administrator.
Joseph Biden’s team has yet to select its NASA chief or voice any space policy goals, but it is expected to slow the implementation of Artemis, the lunar mission by 2024. Today, this date is increasingly called unreal. The administration this month announced its composition of the White House’s Science and Technology Policy Office, selecting cutting-edge geneticist Eric Lander as Biden’s top science adviser.
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