NASA has laid out its plan for choosing a second commercial venture to build a landing system capable of carrying astronauts to and from the lunar surface.
The venture would provide a competitive alternative to SpaceX’s lunar landing system, which is based on its Starship design and won a $2.9 billion NASA contract last April. The Starship lunar lander is scheduled to take on an uncrewed test mission to the moon in 2024, followed by the first crewed lunar landing for NASA’s Artemis program in 2025.
“We expect approximately one human landing per year, over a decade or so, and these are not isolated missions,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today. “Each is going to build on the past progress. … And all of that is, of course, in preparation for us then to have the first human mission to Mars late in the 2030s or 2040.”
When SpaceX won NASA’s nod last April, two competitors for the contract — Alabama-based Dynetics and a team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — complained that NASA should have made more than one award, in the interest of promoting competition. Some members of Congress, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., made similar arguments.
Nelson said the new program, known as the Sustaining Lunar Development contract or NextSTEP Appendix P, would address those complaints. “I promised competition, so here it is,” he told reporters.
If the program proceeds according to plan, the second company’s landers would go into service in the 2026-2027 time frame, starting with an uncrewed test mission to the lunar surface.