Updated: May 1
NASA has selected three U.S. companies to design and develop human landing systems (HLS) for the agency’s Artemis program, one of which will land the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon by 2024. NASA is on track for sustainable human exploration of the Moon for the first time in history.
The human landing system awards under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix H Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) are firm-fixed price, milestone-based contracts. The total combined value for all awarded contracts is $967 million for the 10-month base period.
Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Credits: NASA
The following companies were selected to design and build human landing systems:
Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, is developing the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) – a three-stage lander to be launched on its own New Glenn Rocket System and ULA Vulcan launch system.
Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS) – a single structure providing the ascent and descent capabilities that will launch on the ULA Vulcan launch system.
SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is developing the Starship – a fully integrated lander that will use the SpaceX Super Heavy rocket.
“With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program.”
Fifty years ago, NASA’s Apollo Program proved it is possible to land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. When NASA returns to the Moon in four years with the Artemis program, it will go in a way that reflects the world today – with government, industry, and international partners in a global effort to build and test the systems needed for challenging missions to Mars and beyond.
“We are on our way.” said Douglas Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. “With these awards we begin an exciting partnership with the best of industry to accomplish the nation’s goals. We have much work ahead, especially over these next critical 10 months. I have high confidence that working with these teammates, we will succeed.”
Artist concept of the Blue Origin National Team crewed lander on the surface of the Moon. Credits: Blue Origin
Blue Origin is the prime contractor for the National Team that includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. Their Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) is a three-stage lander that harnesses the proven spaceflight heritage of each team.
Blue Origin will build the descent element which is powered by BE-7 cryogenic engines three years in private development, with cryogenic technologies now under Tipping Point support. Lockheed will build the ascent element that includes the crew cabin, which will have significant commonality with Orion. Northrop Grumman will build the transfer element based largely on its Cygnus cargo module that services the International Space Station. Northrop Grumman is also leading development of a future refueling element for a sustainable lander demonstration. Draper will provide the guidance, navigation and control, avionics, and software systems that draw largely on similar systems the company has developed for NASA.
In their proposal, the National Team outlines a plan in which the ILV can dock with either Orion or the Gateway to await crew arrival. The Blue Origin National Team’s elements for the Human Landing System can be launched individually on commercial rockets or combined to launch on NASA’s Space Launch System
Artist concept of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the surface of the Moon. Credits: Dynetics
Dynetics proposed a robust team with more than 25 subcontractors specializing in both the larger elements and the smaller system-level components of the Dynetics Human Landing System. The large team capitalizes on Dynetics’ experience as an integrator on military and defense contracts with large subcontractor teams.
The Dynetics Human Landing System concept includes a single element providing the ascent and descent capabilities, with multiple modular propellant vehicles prepositioned to fuel the engines at different points in the mission. The crew cabin sits low to the surface, enabling a short climb for astronauts entering, exiting, or transporting tools and samples. The DHLS systems supports both docking with Orion and with Gateway, and will get a fuel top-off before descending to the surface. After the surface expedition, the entire vehicle will return for crew transfer back to Orion.
The Dynetics Human Landing System is rocket-agnostic, capable of launching on a number of commercial rockets.
Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. Credits: SpaceX
Starship is a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations. The system leans on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks.
Several Starships serve distinct purposes in enabling human landing missions, each based on the common Starship design. A propellant storage Starship will park in low-Earth orbit to be supplied by a tanker Starship. The human-rated Starship will launch to the storage unit in Earth orbit, fuel up, and continue to lunar orbit.
SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket booster, which is also powered by Raptor and fully reusable, will launch Starship from Earth. Starship is capable of transporting crew between Orion or Gateway and the lunar surface. Forward to the Moon
“We are thrilled to see the variety of approaches from these companies,” said Watson-Morgan. “Beyond our goal to return humans to the Moon by 2024, this accelerated development will boost advances in critical systems for all lander types, human and robotic.”
NASA got a jump-start in some of those advanced systems through work completed under NextSTEP-2 Appendix E. Eleven U.S. companies provided studies, demonstrations and prototypes under Appendix E, revealing new concepts to address cryogenic fluid management, in-space propellant transfer, and precision landing and hazard avoidance systems.
When NASA sends astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024, it will be the first time generations of people will witness humans walking on another planetary body, outside of watching historical footage from Apollo. Building on these footsteps, future robotic and human explorers will put infrastructure in place for a long-term sustainable presence on the Moon.
NASA’s commercial partners will refine their lander concepts through the contract base period ending in February 2021. During that time, the agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions. NASA will later select firms for development and maturation of sustainable lander systems followed by sustainable demonstration missions. NASA intends to procure transportation to the lunar surface as commercial space transportation services after these demonstrations are complete. During each phase of development, NASA and its partners will use critical lessons from earlier phases to hone the final concepts that will be used for future lunar commercial services.
"I am confident in NASA’s partnership with these companies to help achieve the Artemis mission and develop the human landing system returning us to the Moon" said Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "We have a history of proven lunar technical expertise and capabilities at Marshall and across NASA that will pave the way for our efforts to quickly and safely land humans on the Moon in 2024.”
NASA experts will work closely with the commercial partners building the next human landing systems, leveraging decades of human spaceflight experience and the speed of the commercial sector to achieve a Moon landing in 2024.
The HLS program manager will assign NASA personnel to support the work of each contractor, providing direct, in-line expertise to the companies as requested in their proposals (e.g., design support, analysis, testing). The HLS program will also perform advanced development and risk reduction activities, working in parallel to better inform the approach for the 2024 mission and the necessary maturation of systems for the future sustaining architecture.
Charged with returning to the Moon in the next four years, NASA’s Artemis program will reveal new knowledge about the Moon, Earth, and our origins in the solar system. The human landing system is a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and Gateway.
NASA is returning to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation. Working with its partners throughout the Artemis program, the agency will fine-tune precision landing technologies and develop new mobility capabilities that allow robots and crew to travel greater distances and explore new regions of the Moon. On the surface, the agency has proposed building a new habitat and rovers, testing new power systems and much more to get ready for human exploration of Mars.