Capitalism in space: NASA today announced that it is expanding the list of companies eligible to bid on lunar launch/payload contracts from 9 to 14.
From the NASA press release:
NASA has added five American companies to the pool of vendors that will be eligible to bid on proposals to provide deliveries to the surface of the Moon through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
The additions, which increase the list of CLPS participants on contract to 14, expand NASA’s work with U.S. industry to build a strong marketplace to deliver payloads between Earth and the Moon and broaden the network of partnerships that will enable the first woman and next man to set foot on the Moon by 2024 as part of the agency’s Artemis program.
…These five companies, together with nine companies selected in November 2018, now are eligible to bid on launch and delivery services to the lunar surface. [emphasis mine]
The added companies are SpaceX, Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.
I have highlighted the most important word in this press release, which is most interestingly buried to make it as little noticed as possible. The addition of SpaceX to this list and the mention that the program has now added the ability to for the companies to bid on launch contracts means that NASA’s goal here is to create a situation where it can replace SLS with a bidded contract to private industry that will costs far less and can launch frequently and on time, features that SLS is completely incapable of, and SpaceX can provide easily and reliably. This analysis by me is further reinforced in that Boeing, the builder of SLS, was not included in this list, even though only last week that company offered SLS to NASA in a wider array of launch configurations, for exactly this purpose.
If NASA had made this fact too obvious it might upset certain people in Congress (I’m talking to you Richard Shelby R-Alabama) who are wedded to SLS and its wasteful pork spending in their home states and districts.
The fact remains however that eventually SLS is going to go away. The Trump administration appears very wedded to its Artemis program to get back to the Moon by 2024, and it is apparently discovering that to make that landing happen the administration needs better alternatives.
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