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NASA awards $146 million for human moon lander development

Space logo Space 9/15/2021 Mike Wall
Artist's illustration of an Artemis astronaut stepping onto the surface of the moon. © Provided by Space Artist's illustration of an Artemis astronaut stepping onto the surface of the moon.

NASA is awarding a total of $146 million to five American companies to support the development of crewed moon landers, agency officials announced Tuesday (Sept. 14).

The fixed-price, milestone-based contracts, awarded via NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, will fund work over the next 15 months. The companies getting money are:

  • Blue Origin Federation of Kent, Washington, $25.6 million; 
  • 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;
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, $9.4 million.

"These companies will make advancements toward sustainable human landing system concepts, conduct risk-reduction activities and provide feedback on NASA's requirements to cultivate industry capabilities for crewed lunar landing missions," agency officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Related: How NASA's Artemis moon landing with astronauts works

If all goes according to plan, those advances will benefit NASA's Artemis program, which is working to return humans to the lunar surface within the next few years and establish a sustainable human presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade.

Artemis will rely on privately built crewed lunar landers. NASA picked SpaceX to provide the first of these vehicles, awarding Elon Musk's company a $2.9 billion Human Landing System (HLS) deal this past April. The company plans to fulfill that contract with its next-generation Starship vehicle, which is currently in development.

SpaceX won the HLS award over two other finalists — Dynetics and The National Team, a group led by Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company. Both Dynetics and Blue Origin filed protests with the U.S. Government Accountability Office shortly after the contract was announced. Those protests were denied, but Blue Origin went on to sue NASA over the HLS decision, halting the agency's moon lander work with SpaceX until Nov. 1

The newly announced awards are distinct from the $2.9 billion HLS deal that SpaceX won. The work that Blue Origin, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and SpaceX perform over the next 15 months "will ultimately help shape the strategy and requirements for a future NASA's [sic] solicitation to provide regular astronaut transportation from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon," agency officials wrote in Tuesday's statement.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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