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NASA will award contract for second lunar lander to a biz that's not SpaceX

'Competition is critical to our success,' says US agency boss

NASA is offering a second lucrative contract to fund a lunar lander for its upcoming mission to put men and the first woman on the Moon, it announced this week.

Under the Artemis program, NASA's most ambitious project yet, the space agency hopes to send humans back to the surface of Earth's natural satellite as early as 2025, more than half a century after it last set foot, in 1972 with the Apollo 17 mission. In April 2021, SpaceX was awarded a $2.89bn contract to build a lander to take a crew down to the lunar dunes.

Rivals Blue Origin and Dynetics in response fired off an official complaint to protest NASA's decision. All work for SpaceX's Human Landing System was paused while the US Government Accountability Office investigated claims of foul play. 

Billionaire Jeff Bezos even publicly offered NASA a $2bn discount if his company Blue Origin was selected instead. His hopes were dashed, however, when his case was dismissed and SpaceX was given the green light to continue developing its spacecraft. Maybe Bezos can cheer up now that NASA is giving everyone but SpaceX an opportunity to build a second lunar lander to blastoff as early as 2026 or 2027.

"We expect to have two companies safely carry astronauts in their landers to the surface of the Moon under NASA's guidance before we ask for services, which could result in multiple experienced providers in the market," Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System Program at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, confirmed in a statement.

Details on the upcoming Sustaining Lunar Development contract are expected to be announced in the next few weeks. NASA wants to diversify its lunar transport options as it looks to sustain a human presence on the Moon with the hopes of establishing a long-term base there to explore Mars and beyond.

"Under Artemis, NASA will carry out a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap for humanity: a crewed mission to Mars," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to carry out a cadence of missions over the next decade."

Funding for the Artemis program was secured under the Trump administration with the goal of launching astronauts by 2024. The mission has faced multiple delays and challenges, including hardware failures during tests of NASA's Space Launch System rocket. The date has now been pushed back to 2025; the space agency has spent over $40bn on the mission already and costs will only continue to grow. ®

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