With the Space Launch System (SLS) already on the launch pad for initial testing ahead of the maiden uncrewed mission to the Moon, Nasa is looking for several private players to ferry astronauts to the Moon. The American space agency is looking for a sustained presence on the lunar surface and aims to conduct at least one lunar landing every year over a decade.
Nasa has announced plans to invite commercial companies to develop an astronaut Moon lander apart from SpaceX. The competition is set to get tough for Elon Musk as Nasa looks for another private vendor for a second landing system to put humans on the Moon.
“Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to carry out a cadence of missions over the next decade,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a media briefing. The administrator further added that this new astronaut lander opportunity will ultimately strengthen and increase flexibility for Artemis.
Nasa had in 202 picked SpaceX to land the next American astronauts on the lunar surface, and the company is working to demonstrate the system in 2025. The space agency has now asked SpaceX to transform the company’s proposed human landing system into a spacecraft for recurring services for a second demonstration mission.
The second contract dubbed Sustaining Lunar Development contract expedites progress toward a long-term, sustaining lander capability as early as the 2026 or 2027 timeframe. “We expect to have two companies safely carry astronauts in their landers to the surface of the Moon under Nasa’s guidance before we ask for services, which could result in multiple experienced providers in the market,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System Program said in a statement.
Nasa will release the details of requirements for future development and demonstration lunar landing capability to take astronauts between orbit and the surface of the Moon in the coming weeks. The agency said that the effort is meant to maximize NASA’s support for competition and provides redundancy in services to help ensure NASA’s ability to transport astronauts to the lunar surface.
The agency is in no mood to remain limited to the Moon and aims to push forward to Mars in the coming decades. “Under Artemis, NASA will carry out a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap for humanity: a crewed mission to Mars,” Nelson added.