In what appears to be an effort by NASA to placate the losers in the bidding for the manned lunar lander contract, won by SpaceX’s Starship, the agency this week awarded small design contracts related to future lunar lander construction to five different companies, totaling $ 146 million and with the large bulk of the cash going to those losers.
The contracts were as follows:
- Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, $40.8 million.
- Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, $35.2 million.
- Northrop Grumman of Dulles, Virginia, $34.8 million.
- Blue Origin Federation of Kent, Washington, $25.6 million.
- SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, $9.4 million.
From the press release:
The selected companies will develop lander design concepts, evaluating their performance, design, construction standards, mission assurance requirements, interfaces, safety, crew health accommodations, and medical capabilities. The companies will also mitigate lunar lander risks by conducting critical component tests and advancing the maturity of key technologies.
While the distribution of the money suggests NASA wishes to provide the most support to the companies that lost the bid, it also gives us a hint of what the agency presently thinks of those losers. Of the losers, Blue Origin received the least, suggesting that NASA remains skeptical of that company’s effort. It also might be NASA’s signal to Blue Origin that endless lawsuits and protests — rather than actual construction — is not a good way to make friends and influence people. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that Dynetics received the most cash, even though like Blue Origin it has yet to launch anything into orbit.
This distribution of money is also part of the typical pattern of DC crony capitalism, designed almost like pay offs to capture these companies and make them partners in the Washington swamp.
One big space company, Boeing, however received nothing. The company might not have submitted a proposal, but I suspect that if it did, NASA dismissed it outright based on the agency’s decision last year to eliminate Boeing from such contract considerations because of the incredible weakness of its recent bids. I think that Boeing will remain on the outs until it finally gets Starliner flying and operational.
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