NASA Announces Call for Private Proposals to Design a New Lunar Lander – In 30 Days
If you've been hoarding blueprints for a citizen science Death Star, now's your chance: NASA is accepting private-sector proposals for lunar landing systems that will deliver American astronauts to the Moon's surface within five years as part of the Artemis program.
The Artemis program is one component of a much larger mission to send humans to Mars – but first, we need to establish a base on the Moon. Following the completion of the Lunar Gateway, the Space Launch System rocket (SLS) – the most powerful rocket ever built – will carry American astronauts in the new Orion spacecraft to live and work in lunar orbit. There they will explore the surface of the Moon, taking new landing systems for a test-drive and trialing proposed technology for the next leg of the journey: Mars.
This mission requires a fleet of new spacecraft outfitted with the latest technological innovations. It takes an average of seven years to develop new equipment from its prototype to the final design, so this compressed timeline is raising a few eyebrows. "We are operating on a timeline that requires us to be flexible to encourage innovation and alternate approaches," said Lisa Watson-Morgan, the program manager of the Human Landing System at Marshall Spaceflight Center.
In order to streamline procedures without sacrificing safety, NASA surveyed companies over the summer to develop policies and procedures as they transition to partnerships in the private sector. Among the greatest criticisms was the amount of regulatory oversight. NASA has a reputation for caution – but this has stymied progress in the past, and a survey of industry leaders convinced NASA to slash their requirements from 116 mandatory bullet-points to 37. They preserved all safety measures and cut a number of lengthy technical reports in favor of lean data summaries.
Here's the expected timeline: The first phase of the Artemis program is set to launch in 2020; Lunar Gateway elements will arrive in 2022-2023, and a human landing system will touch down on the Moon's surface for the first time in decades by 2024. By 2028, we will have established a "sustainable human lunar presence."
And in 2030? We're going to Mars.
Proposals are due November 1. Start your engines.