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NASA Picks SpaceX, Blue Origin, And 9 Other Firms For $45.5 Million Moon Lander Study

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NASA has revealed the 11 private companies it has tapped to research and develop new technology for its planned moon lander.

Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin headline the American space agency's partners in coming up with the next lunar lander design. They are joined by two of the U.S. government's oldest space collaborators, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Other companies working on the project are Aerojet Rocketdyne, Dynetics, Masten Space Systems, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, OrbitBeyond, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and SSL.

The Next Lunar Lander Design

The lunar lander project is part of NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program. All 11 partners are tasked with studying potential vehicles and refueling elements that are necessary to create a viable moon lander. They will then build prototypes to demonstrate their designs.

The American companies will receive a share of the total $45.5 million for the project. However, a NASA spokesperson said the amount that each one of them would get would depend on the proposal submitted to the space agency. The developers will also have to pay at least 20 percent of the total project cost.

NASA hopes to use the designs that the companies will produce for its planned manned mission to the moon in 2024.

"To accelerate our return to the Moon, we are challenging our traditional ways of doing business," explained Marshall Smith, director for human lunar exploration programs at NASA HQ.

"We will streamline everything from procurement to partnerships to hardware development and even operations."

Smith added that NASA is looking forward to getting back to the moon as fast as possible. The space agency views its public/private partnerships with the 11 private firms to study human landing systems as an important step in achieving this goal.

NextSTEP Option

NASA is utilizing what it calls undefinitized contract actions to help expedite work on the lunar lander research. This allows the space agency to authorize its partners to begin a portion of the project even though they are still in negotiations for a contract award.

Greg Chavers, manager of human landing system formulation at the Marshall Space Flight Center, said NASA is taking major steps in starting development of technologies as fast as possible. This includes invoking a NextSTEP option to let partner companies start working while they are still negotiating.

He said the undefinitized contract action will help the space agency to collect feedback from the industry regarding its human landing system requirements.

In April, NASA announced that it plans to team up with American companies to develop an integrated moon lander. It made its intentions known by releasing a pre-solicitation to the U.S. space industry.

The space agency will issue a formal solicitation about the project this summer. This will provide the requirements for its planned human landing on the moon in 2024. Industry members will be responsible for submitting their concept proposals, as well as their plans for hardware development and integration.

Chavers pointed out that the approach does not prescribe a specific design or a certain number of elements necessary for the human landing system. He said NASA needs a way to send astronauts back to the surface of the moon and have them return safely. The space agency is leaving many of the system's specifics to its private partners.

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