NASA to Release Draft RFP for Second Human Lunar Lander

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA plans to release a draft request for proposal (RFP) by the end of the month for a second crewed lunar lander to join the Human Landing System (HLS) being developed by SpaceX, officials announced during a media conference on Wednesday.

“Competition is the key to our success,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in describing the Sustaining Lunar Development contract.

NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Jim Free said the space agency will award a fixed-price, milestones-based contract for the development of a second lander as well as uncrewed and crewed demonstration missions of the vehicle to and from the lunar surface.

Lisa Watson-Morgan, Human Landing System Program manager, said that industry days to obtain feedback on the draft RFP will be held in early April. A final RFP will be issued later this spring, she added.

Free said the competition will be open to every company except for SpaceX. NASA has awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop HLS and conduct uncrewed and crewed demonstration missions. The space agency will exercise an option in SpaceX’s contract to provide the company funding to develop a lander to meet the specifications laid out in the new RFP, Free said. SpaceX will conduct a crewed demonstration mission of the new vehicle.

Watson-Morgan said SpaceX has met all of its milestones thus far on the HLS contract, and that the work is “going very, very well.”

NASA will launch the Artemis I mission – the first flight of the giant Space Launch System (SLS) and an uncrewed Orion spacecraft – on a mission to the moon within the next few months. The rocket was rolled out to the launch pad for the first time last week.

The Artemis II mission will send astronauts to orbit the moon in 2024. Artemis III will involve a crewed landing at the moon’s south pole using SpaceX’s HLS. That mission is planned for no earlier than 2025.

NASA originally planned to award contracts for two companies to build separate human landers. When the space agency received only one quarter of the requested funding from Congress for the program, NASA awarded a single contract to SpaceX.

Key members of Congress were unhappy with the decision. Losing bidders Blue Origin and Dynetics unsuccessfully protested the award.

Nelson said he was confident that Congress would approve funding required for the second lander. The Biden Administration will release its federal budget request for fiscal year 2023 next week.

Nelson was asked about operations of the International Space Station (ISS) in light of tensions between the United States and Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine. The NASA administrator said professional relationships between the astronauts and cosmonauts in orbit and space agency and Roscosmos personnel on the ground remain unaltered.

Nelson said he was encouraged by the launch of three Russian cosmonauts to the ISS last week. He also expects NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and two cosmonauts to return aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft next week as planned. Russian and American ground personnel who will assist in recovery operations are being put in place, he added.