NASA Seeks Ideas to Advance Toward Human-Class Lunar Landers

Astronaut John Young salutes the flag on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is leading a renewed effort to explore areas near and on the Moon to increase our knowledge about Earth’s nearest neighbor, and prepare for human missions deeper into the solar system. The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will open opportunities for science, exploration and commercial industry from lunar orbit. In addition, access to the lunar surface will be a key component of this effort, requiring a plan to incrementally increase the size of payloads that can be delivered to the surface.

The agency issued a request for information (RFI) March 16, 2018, seeking U.S. industry feedback on possible approaches to advance lunar payload transportation capabilities. This RFI will help NASA understand potential development paths to advance current payload capacities, and to ultimately enable human-scale lander capabilities.

Through the Lunar CATALYST partnerships established in 2014 and ongoing Tipping Point investments, NASA is already working with industry to establish private sector capabilities to precisely and safely deliver small payloads to the lunar surface. NASA plans to partner with U.S. industry later this year to begin delivering small payloads to the lunar surface starting in 2019, and will use data from the RFI responses to shape the approach to a mid-size lander mission to the Moon as early as 2022.

“We are confident industry will be ready soon to help NASA and other customers land small payloads on the Moon. In the near-term, we are interested in sending science and human exploration instruments to return data directly from the surface,” said Jason Crusan, director for Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Through this RFI, we want to determine the best path forward to evolve from small payload capacities to mid-size payloads that can lead to human-class capabilities.”

The RFI seeks feedback on current industry capabilities and plans, as well as technical and programmatic approaches, but NASA is also interested in understanding preferred partnership arrangements, contract mechanisms, and ways that the agency can help bolster private-industry business cases for providing lunar access. The RFI also asks responders to return independent market analyses estimating non-government demand for access to the lunar surface.

Evolution toward large-scale human-rated lunar landers would be the next step, with the goal of once again sending astronauts to the Moon.

“We believe demand for access to the Moon will increase significantly over the next decade,” said Crusan, noting that many of 180 ideas discussed at a recent gateway science workshop were related to activities on the lunar surface.

This request is strictly for information gathering purposes and does not constitute a contract solicitation. Responses to this RFI are due April 30, 2018.