Sidereal Messenger: NASA will hire second company to land astronauts on the Moon

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NASA decided to hire a second company to prepare a lander capable of taking astronauts to the surface of the Moon. The announcement of the opening of the new bid was made last Wednesday (23) and reopens the possibility of a plan B if SpaceX, hired in April last year, fails with its Starship project.

The decision to focus on a single supplier to carry out the first manned landing of this century had many people perplexed. Now, with the new competition, the risks of failure are reduced. And the measure also appeases the ire of companies such as Dynetics and Blue Origin, which came to question in court NASA’s decision to close with a single project.

SpaceX, naturally, will be left out of this new dispute. But there’s nothing to complain about, as NASA has also announced that it will exercise an option in the original contract that asks Elon Musk’s company for a second manned flight. The first, linked to the Artemis III mission, should not happen before April 2025, according to the agency.

In the end, despite the ad, it’s an exercise in passing the hot potato. How much money will there be for that? NASA did not speak and limited itself to stating that its 2023 budget proposal will be presented to Congress shortly.

Originally, the agency had justified choosing SpaceX as the only option within the budget available. Now, it will be up to the US parliament to open the wallet if it wants a second company working in parallel on the same objective.

If that happens, there are at least three manned missions to the surface of the Moon already included in NASA’s plans, two with SpaceX’s Starship vehicle, and one with that other spacecraft to be defined. It is worth remembering, however, that only the lunar landing and take-off segment is promoted by the companies. The sending of astronauts to the orbit of the Moon and back to Earth will be done by the Orion capsule, propelled by the super rocket SLS.

By the way, the first copy of them is already on platform 39B of the Kennedy Space Center for a battery of tests. The Artemis I mission, an unmanned flight, could depart, if all goes well, in June. Artemis II, along the same lines, but with people inside, should not fly until 2024. And Artemis III, the first manned landing, should be in 2026.

Not coincidentally, the latest moves are mentioned as planning beyond 2026, in an effort to create a sustainable presence on the Moon. NASA also has an international program to set up a small manned station in lunar orbit, the Gateway. And an additional complicating factor comes with the uncertainties on the International Space Station, which brings together Russians and Americans. How long will it remain viable? NASA’s menu is quite varied. It will be up to Congress to look at the dishes, the prices and decide what they want.

This column is published on Mondays, in Folha Corrida.

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