NASA has postponed contracts for further funding of lunar landing modules
NASA has postponed contracts for further funding for lunar lander development from late February to April 30. The space agency said it needs more time to evaluate proposals.
Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, and Leidos-owned Dynetics received $ 967 million in seed funding from NASA last year to develop concepts for a man-made lunar landing system. This is the first attempt by the space agency to fund the sending of astronauts to the moon since the Apollo program in the 1970s. Blue Origin is working on the Blue Moon lander and SpaceX is developing the Starship rocket. Dynetics is building a lander in collaboration with Sierra Nevada.
Last Wednesday, NASA advised three contractors to renew their development contracts. The new contracting date for further funding is set for April 30, although, according to the Trump administration's timetable, the agency was to select two of the three applicants as early as late February.
As The Verge suggests, the reason for the next schedule change was a lack of funding. Under the spending bill passed by Congress in December, NASA received $ 850 million for the Human Landing System program, far less than the $ 3.2 billion previously set aside for the moon's 2024 arrival schedule. Biden's team has generally refrained from publishing any space policy and is focusing more on climate change and curbing the pandemic, keeping the fate of the Artemis program uncertain.
NASA says the delay will give the agency more time to evaluate bidders' proposals and allow it to “keep a smooth transition” from the development phase; companies will also have more time to design and develop their landers. In addition, NASA notes that a full extension period may not be required and contracts may be signed by April 30.
SpaceX is developing a version of the Starship that will transport a crew from low Earth orbit to the lunar orbital station Gateway and between the station and the lunar surface. The amount allocated by SpaceX for development was $ 135 million.
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin received $ 579 million to develop the Blue Moon lander. In 2019, the company announced it was forming a team with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper to work on the project. Dynetics received $ 253 million to develop its lander and partnered with Sierra Nevada Corp.
The Biden administration has yet to select a new NASA administrator or voice any space policy goals. Former NASA head Jim Bridenstine stepped down from his post on the day of Biden's inauguration and handed over the management of the agency to Steve Yurchak.