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NASA contract award for manned lunar landers rejects SLS

Capitalism in space: NASA today announced the award of contracts to three different private companies to develop manned lunar landers for the 2024 Artemis Moon mission, all of which will not use the SLS rocket to get to the Moon.

The press release described the awards as follows:

  • 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.

All, including NASA and the Trump administration, are aiming to get these landers built and launched by the Trump administration’s 2024 deadline.

The first thing that stands out like a beacon is the exclusion of SLS as the rocket to launch any of these landers. Instead, the aim is to use the cheaper privately built rockets of either SpaceX, ULA, or Blue Origin.

The second thing that stands out is the commitment by SpaceX to use its Super Heavy/Starship rocket, not its Falcon Heavy. This means they are directly telling the world that they expect this rocket to be in operation much sooner than most expect. It also suggests that they hope this rocket will supplant SLS as the main rocket to get to the Moon. The award also means that NASA is agreeable to this.

The third thing that stands out is the exclusion of Boeing, which submitted a bid but did not win. Not only does this exclusion reinforce the sense gotten from an earlier report that NASA was very dissatisfied with Boeing and was thus going to rank it very low in future bidding considerations, it also indicates once again that NASA is seriously looking at other options to SLS. Boeing’s rejected bid was apparently the only one linked to SLS, and was rejected.

In fact, that SLS was not mentioned as the rocket for any of these landers strongly indicates that NASA and the Trump administration is finally abandoning SLS as the rocket to get Americans to the Moon.

Which immediately raises the question: Why the hell are we spending any money building it? It no longer has any purpose at all.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

4 comments

  • The plan says, all of these landers (including Starship) go to lunar orbit *unmanned*.

    Then the crew, launched in Orion on SLS, will perform lunar orbit rendezvous with the landers.

    So yes, SLS is still part of the plan. For now…

  • Richard M

    “Why the hell are we spending any money building it?”

    Oh there’s a list of reasons, and as you likely know, we can easily find their office addresses in the Rayburn, Cannon, Hart and Russell office buildings on Constitution and Independence Avenues.

    And it’s still worth more to them at present than the political capital Donald Trump would need to spend to kill the thing off.

    For now. Alas.

  • Jay

    Interesting to see Blue Origin with Lockheed-Martin and Northrup as sub-contractors. A new company as the lead with experienced established companies working under it. I would love to know which company is doing what in this project. The lander looks similar to the Altair from Constellation.
    I watched the presentation of the winners and the Dynetics design looks interesting and simple.

  • Wodun

    It’s part of the dual track approach NASA has been on for a while. It may or may not lead to cancelling SLS but it dies mean that things will be taking place that don’t rely on SLS. A lot if people think that if SLS is still a thing, that nothing else will happen but that isn’t the case.

    Maybe it’s a good thing people are confused because it means the meaningful activities NASA are engaged in can survive.

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