NASA apparently delayed its plan to award two high-profile crewed lunar lander contracts just this past week as it move to reschedule due to a crucial program under the Trump administration’s hasty timeline which plans to get humans back to the moon as soon as the year 2024.
The delay can also be seen as a result of the US Congress not giving out too much while the new Biden Administration seems to be focusing more on national issues which needs to be ironed out first before any other thing.
A huge US$967 million in seed funding from NASA last year was awarded to SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics in order to develop rivaling concept for a human lunar landing system.
This makes it the most recent expense which the agency is making on getting astronauts back on the moon since the 1970s Apollo program.
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NASA made it known to the three contractors last week that an extension to their development contracts will be required which ultimately caused a shift in the award date to April 30th.
Under the Trump administration’s timeline, the agency had planned to pick two of the three bidders in late February, giving a stamp of approval for two systems that would inevitably carry humans to the moon.
The US Congress passed spending bill of about US$850 million back in December which is meant to help NASA continue in its Human Landing System program which is short of the US$3.2 billion needed in order to meet the initial 2024 timeline.
But NASA remained committed to the February award date and, similarly, the 2024 moonshot. A delay was also expected as Biden’s team holds off on releasing any space policy and focuses more on climate change and curbing the pandemic, keeping the long-term fate of NASA’s Artemis program uncertain.
NASA lo made it known that the delay will help it evaluate the bidders’ proposals and to “preserve the ability to seamlessly transition” from the development phase. The agency also added it may not require the full extension period but could award the lander contracts earlier.
The extension will also give the bidders the time to design and develop their lander system according to NASA.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX lunar lander pitch to NASA is the Starship which is a giant, fully-reusable vehicle which the company have been launching and landing in short, suborbital test flights which it calls Hops in Boca Chica, Texas. The company’s chunk of development funds was $135 million.
On the other hand is Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin with the largest award of a whooping US$579 million which will be used in developing its Blue Moon lander. The company however announced a National team back in 2019 which comprised of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to work on the project. Dynetics got $253 million for its lander and has partnered with Sierra Nevada Corp.
But President Joe Biden on the other hand is yet to pick a NASA administrator or even release any space policy objectives because he got inaugurated barely a 2 weeks ago.
The new administration is expected to lead to a little bit of a slow-down in the Artemis program’s race to reach the moon by the year 2024 – a date which many have foreseen as being unrealistic.
This month, the administration announced its team for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, picking pioneering geneticist Eric Lander as Biden’s top science adviser.
The Trump administration’s NASA chief was Jim Bridenstine who left the position during the inauguration day after serving in the office since 2018. He handed the agency’s control to his No. 2, Steve Jurczyk as acting administrator.