Northrop Grumman to build moon-orbiting habitat

Cygnus-derived habitation module
An artist’s conception shows Northrop Grumman’s habitation module, which is based on the design of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft. (Northrop Grumman Illustration)

NASA says it’s choosing Northrop Grumman to build the habitation module for its future moon-orbiting Gateway outpost, because it’s the only company that can do the job in time for a 2024 lunar landing.

In a procurement document released last week, the space agency said the other companies that were competing to build the Minimal Habitation Module as part of NASA’s NextSTEP program — Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NanoRacks and Sierra Nevada Corp. — couldn’t have their hardware ready in time to meet the deadline set by the Trump administration.

“NGIS [Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, formerly Orbital ATK] was the only NextSTEP-2 contractor with a module design and the production and tooling resources capable of meeting the 2024 deadline,” NASA said.

For that reason, NASA is going with a sole-source process to award the contract for the habitation module, short-circuiting the full and open NextSTEP-2 Appendix A competition. As long as Northrop Grumman submits an acceptable proposal with a price tag that’s “fair and reasonable,” NASA will give its go-ahead.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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