Reconfigured Blue Origin, Dynetics Teams Bid for Second HLS Contract

Reconfigured Blue Origin, Dynetics Teams Bid for Second HLS Contract

The two teams that lost out to SpaceX in NASA’s first Human Landing System competition are trying again. Blue Origin and Dynetics are bidding for NASA’s Sustaining Lunar Development contract as the agency continues to seek a second supplier to provide redundancy and competition.

At this very moment, NASA is conducting the Artemis I uncrewed test flight of its Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. Orion is on its way back home from the Moon and will splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday.

So close and yet so far. The uncrewed Orion spacecraft passes over the Moon at about 80 miles altitude during the Return Powered Fly as part of the Artemis I test flight, December 5, 2022.

But SLS/Orion will get crews only to and from lunar orbit. A separate Human Landing System or HLS is needed to travel down to and back from the lunar surface.

Instead of procuring lunar landers under traditional cost-plus contracts, NASA decided to use Public-Private Partnerships where private sector companies build and own the systems and NASA simply buys services. This is the same model NASA used for the commercial cargo and commercial crew systems that resupply the International Space Station.

As with those programs, NASA wants two providers to ensure that at least one system is available if the other is grounded for any reason and to keep costs down since the service contracts are periodically renegotiated. SpaceX and Northrop Grumman are the ISS commercial cargo providers. SpaceX’s commercial crew system, Crew Dragon, is operational while Boeing’s Starliner is still in the testing phase.

NASA wanted to pick two HLS companies last year, but Congress did not provide sufficient funds. NASA chose SpaceX’s Starship to be the HLS for Artemis III, the first time U.S. astronauts will set foot on the Moon since the Apollo 17 crew 50 years ago. NASA hopes to launch that mission at the end of 2025.

SpaceX’s selection prompted protests by competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics and a lawsuit by Blue Origin, but NASA’s decision prevailed.

Earlier this year, NASA laid out a new strategy for getting a second HLS provider called Sustaining Lunar Development or SLD. The solicitation was open to anyone other than SpaceX. NASA said it would negotiate additional HLS missions separately with SpaceX and last month signed a deal with SpaceX for an upgraded Starship HLS for Artemis IV.

NASA is planning a regular cadence of landings on the Moon thereafter. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has said it will be one per year for 10 years as the agency uses the Moon as a “proving ground” for sending astronauts to Mars. But the hope is that international and commercial partners will find useful and profitable things to do on the Moon and continue missions there indefinitely, creating a market for HLS services.

SLD bids were due yesterday. Blue Origin and Dynetics have revealed they are bidding again although with different teams from last time. If there are other bidders, they have not publicly come forward yet.

Blue Origin teamed with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper last time. This time it’s Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Draper, Astrobotic and Honeybee.

Boeing bid separately last time, but was disqualified for reasons NASA never made clear.

Blue Origin did not provide an illustration of what it’s proposing this time, but this is the original concept.

Illustration of Blue Origin’s original lunar lander concept. Credit: Blue Origin

Northrop Grumman has jumped to the Dynetics team this time. Dynetics is a Leidos company.

As shown in the tweet, Dynetics’ proposal this time looks very similar to its previous design.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the launch of the last Apollo lunar landing mission, Apollo 17. The Apollo Lunar Excursion Module was built by Grumman, which became part of Northrop Grumman so it rightfully says it is the only company to build a lunar human landing system to date.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin unpacks equipment from the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module on the lunar surface, July 20, 1969. Credit: NASA

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