Readers!
 

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


 

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:
 


 

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


 

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 

Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


NASA delays lunar lander contract award

NASA, now under the control of the Biden administration, has quietly delayed by at least two months the contract award to two companies to build manned lunar landers for its Artemis program.

With short funding from Congress and a new administration focused on more pressing national issues, the move was expected.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a team of aerospace giants led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Leidos-owned Dynetics won a combined $967 million in seed funding from NASA last year to develop rivaling concepts for a human lunar landing system. It’s the space agency’s first effort to spend money on astronaut moon landers since the Apollo program in the 1970s.

Last Wednesday, NASA told the three contractors that an extension to their development contracts “will be required,” picking a new award date of April 30th. Under the Trump administration’s timeline, the agency had planned to pick two of the three bidders in late February, giving a stamp of approval for two systems that would inevitably carry humans to the moon.

This delay would likely have occurred under Trump as well, mainly because Congress only appropriated less than a third of the money needed for this Artemis program.

However, under Biden it was guaranteed. A major review is about to happen, designed not to kill Artemis but to slow it down appreciable. Congress likes the pork Artemis produces, but is wholly uninterested in it actually flying any dangerous missions. I suspect Biden will agree. The focus will once again shift back to Gateway, making any lunar landing require it so that it must be built first. Such a shift will guarantee that no American manned missions to the surface of the Moon will occur before ’30, but also allow the spending of gobs of money building a small lunar station that will only be occupied for short periods.

The big loser here, to my mind, is Jeff Bezos. His company, Blue Origin, was building the descent portion of the lunar lander, with all other portions built by his big space partners, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. Not only is most of the other work by these partners more easily shifted to other uses related to Gateway, but those companies already have plenty of government contracts. As far as I can remember, Blue Origin has no other big government deals, with its New Glenn having been rejected by the military, and its lunar descent technology unneeded until there is a lunar landing, and I expect that to be significantly delayed.

For the past four years Bezos has clearly wanted to make Blue Origin a new big space contractor. Right now it appears that effort has failed wholly.

Dynetics will also lose out big, as they are a new company and can ill afford losing a contract here.

SpaceX will likely be hurt the least. Not getting any money for designing Starship to land on the Moon will do little to slow its development. Starship is almost completely privately funded, and does not need NASA money to get built.

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

  • mivenho

    SpaceX may not need NASA money to get Starship built, but it still needs gov’t approvals to test it and to fly it. Let’s hope those approvals will be forthcoming as the launch cadence increases. Let us also hope that gov’t regulatory agencies do not embark on a collaborative effort to inflict death by a thousand cuts on the Starship program

  • Richard M

    Dynetics will also lose out big, as they are a new company and can ill afford losing a contract here.

    Dynetics is a new name to a lot of us, but they’ve actually been around since 1974. This is, however, their most ambitious space hardware initiative.

    I still think they have a chance, since their lander is a lot cheaper than Blue Origin’s, and it’s almost entirely reusable. They also scored “very good” on the technical rating and management rating, which was acually the best of all three contractor teams. If a second lander system is wanted, they could be an affordable alternative to SpaceX.

  • Brad

    The $1 billion per year Gateway project is a bargain compared to the $3.5 billion cost of Orion/ SLS.

    The biggest winners of a slowdown of Project Artemis is Boeing and all those other subcontractors and NASA employees whose ricebowls are filled by the slow motion catastrophe of the Space Launch System project.

    But as NASA now slows down to a Biden shuffle, SpaceX is also speeding up.

    By the time the first token manned Orion lunar-flyby takes place, launched by SLS sometime around 2024, the contrast between the waste and sloth of NASA vs the speed and thrift of SpaceX will be blinding.

    It didn’t have to be this way. Politicians did this. Biden will be responsible for the humiliation of NASA, and the fleecing of the taxpayer.

  • mkent

    The focus will once again shift back to Gateway…

    The focus has been on Gateway for the last three years.

    …making any lunar landing require it so that it must be built first…

    It already is being built first. The parts required for a lunar landing are under construction and scheduled for launch in 2023.

    …but also allow the spending of gobs of money building a small lunar station that will only be occupied for short periods.

    1100-day missions are planned with the Enhanced Habitation Capability.

Readers: the rules for commenting!

 

No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.

 

However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.

 

Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *