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

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, …

  1. Real Ale is Best
    Holmes

    A second lunar lander?

    1) It'll never get off the ground.

    2) If it does, SpaceX moon base will be ready to receive them.

    3) It'll not be able to dock if it does get there because of a predictable difference in docking adapters.

    4) See (1).

    5) It'll be cancelled due to cost overruns.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: A second lunar lander?

      So you're expecting Boeing to win, then....

      Anyway, I think Musk works better when he has a bit of competition and pressure. This will hopefully keep it from being done on "Musk time"

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: A second lunar lander? About #3

      NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency have a standard for docking adapters. It's called the International Docking System Standard (IDSS). It was created by the International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board, on behalf of the International Space Station partner organizations; NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency. SpaceX already adheres to this standard for it's Dragon capsule and everyone else will have to adhere to this standard as well.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Docking_System_Standard

      The Chinese docking mechanism is based on the Russian APAS-89/APAS-95 system. There have been contradictory claims on the compatibility of the Chinese system with IDSS, which is also based on APAS.

      1. Spherical Cow

        Re: A second lunar lander? About #3

        Yes, but someone is bound to upset the Apple cart, as quick as Lightning ;-)

        p.s. I feel like any of the xkcd Cursed Connectors work well here. Have this one: https://xkcd.com/2495/

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: A second lunar lander? About #3

          Upset the Apple cart

          "You're opening it wrong."

        2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

          Re: A second lunar lander? About #3

          NASA will have a boatload of specs the contractor will have to meet just like the contract SpaceX has. They won't be given a blank slate. Docking compatability is certainly going to be at or near the top of the list.

          1. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: A second lunar lander? About #3

            And they'll be met - just like Microsoft Office formats meet open standards.

            1. TeeCee Gold badge

              Re: A second lunar lander? About #3

              Actually MS Office formats do meet open standards, just not the particular ones you are obviously alluding to.

              Obligatory XKCD link.

          2. David Hicklin

            Re: A second lunar lander? About #3

            Don't forget the air filter cartridges..

            1. MAF

              Re: A second lunar lander? About #3

              I regret that I have but one up-vote to give that post...

  2. steamnut

    Boeing Boeing Gone!

    With it's recent record on both aeronautical and aerospace designs let's hope that Boeing are not a successful bidder. We do not want to hear "Houston we have a problem".

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Boeing Boeing Gone!

      Given boeing's problems recently , we'd be lucky to hear that.....

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Boeing Boeing Gone!

      The other bidder is Blue Origin+Lockheed-Martin+Northrop Grumman. There were three proposals: Dynetics, Blue Origin and SpaceX.

      The Dynetics lander has some excellent solutions to some problems but some other problems still needed a solution when the proposal was submitted. The original concept assumed a stop at LOP-G. The 2024 deadline meant LOP-G would not be there and that caused changes to the mission profile that made the lander's payload mass margin negative.

      Blue Origin should have read the instructions more carefully. They assumed NASA would make two awards so they could safely pad their proposal until the price just beat third place. The actual request for proposals document said up to 2 - which includes the possibility of 0. NASA's budget is a matter of public record so it was clear that $6B was never going to be selected even on its own. Blue were supposed to offer their best price. As Jeff could knock $2B off shortly after the submission date perhaps the $6B price was not entirely accurate. Even $4B was too expensive. The good news is that Blue's lander should get 4500kg to the Moon (6500kg with New Glenn) and Lockheed Martin's ascent vehicle should get the astronauts and a few souvenirs back to Northrop Grumman's transfer element. (There is little point in lifting tons of Moon rocks because they will not fit in the Orion Capsule for the journey back to Earth.) The bad news is the Astronauts have to spend a significant amount of time on the Moon reconfiguring the vehicle for the return journey.

      As well as being half the price, the SpaceX solution gets over 100,000kg to the Moon (more if you are not bringing tons of rock back). It will be completely re-usable. On top of that, add a crew starship for the journey from Earth to Lunar Orbit and back and you can cancel a $4B SLS+Orion launch for each trip.

      The most obvious Boeing involvements are that they are the lead contractor for SLS (which is required to get the Orion capsule near the Moon) and they own half of ULA who would probably provided launches for the Transfer, Landing and Ascent elements of Blue's system. (No-one was able to propose New Glenn in 2024 with straight face.)

      The gigantic super-mammoth on the room is where the budget for this second lander is going to come from. One obvious place is the money already promised to SpaceX. Congress already did something similar by moving commercial crew funds to SLS which had the added bonus of delaying commercial crew so the SLS delays would have company.

      1. innominatus

        Re: Boeing Boeing Gone!

        NASA should have stumped up for Prime and got free next Day delivery to the moon...

      2. arctic_haze

        Re: Boeing Boeing Gone!

        I have already commented that without additional money the second lander will delay Artemis by many years if NASA will share the available funds between two companies.

    3. Bowlers

      Re: Boeing Boeing Gone!

      'With it's recent record on both aeronautical and aerospace designs let's hope that Boeing are not a successful bidder. We do not want to hear "Houston we have a problem".' Again!

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Boeing Boeing Gone!

        Yeah, this time they'll report it as "we have a problem"

        (the original quote was "we've had a problem" but you knew that)

  3. FIA Silver badge

    Billionaire Jeff Bezos even publicly offered NASA a $2bn discount if his company Blue Origin was selected instead.

    Surely that should be 'Billionare Jeff Bezos was forced to admit he'd overbid to try and get an extra $2bn of taxpayers money'?

    This is the worlds richest man who's quoted as saying how he'd like to be 'paid to practice' by the American taxpayer after all.

  4. Paul Herber Silver badge
    Trollface

    If competition is so important ...

    If competition is so important why is there only one moon?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: If competition is so important ...

      There's way more than one moon. Problem is that the next nearest ones in the competition are orbiting Mars :-)

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: If competition is so important ...

      That's no moon

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: If competition is so important ...

      Clearly you do not understand what this is all about. When the choices for an American medium/heavy lift rocket were ULA Atlas V or ULA Delta V Heavy US politicians were not demanding competition and were instead finding excuses to continue buying Russian RD-180 engines for Atlas. When SpaceX offered Falcon 9s for ⅓ the cost of an Atlas and Falcon Heavies for ⅓ the cost of a Delta competition became essential.

      For Artemis, SpaceX is such a horrible option (from a political perspective) that twice the price for 5% of the payload is called 'competition'.

      In real life the rocket closest to competing with Falcon is Rocket Lab's Neutron. I am sure that if Rocket Lab submit an Artemis proposal then next year we will hear Blue Origin advocating for a third competitor.

  5. Binraider Silver badge

    Regardless of whether it flies or not, competition is good or you will end up with another bloated ULA can that can't launch shit for less than multi-billion dollars.

    NASA has spent a long, long time learning this the hard way.

    So the question is, is NASA a job creation scheme, or a military-industrial complex fund? The former we all want to see. (and SLS has surely, got to go as soon as Starship and/or Blue Origin vapourware surfaces).

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      NASA thoroughly understands the problem but so do congress and the senate. NASA are required by law to spend money on SLS. They are required to use the preferred (by congress) contractors even when the costs are astronomical. To accomplish this they have to employ people who can do that work without vomiting. Plenty of people at NASA lack this important requirement but most are able to avoid commenting on SLS while they get on with something constructive.

      Take a closer look at job creation schemes. Head bean counter takes a taxi to work = 1 job. Bean counter takes a taxi home, that is another job - even if it is the same driver. SLS does actually employ some people so it is a step up from many job creation schemes. If the law requiring SLS were cancelled tomorrow, everyone on the project capable of designing or constructing a rocket could get new jobs in under a month. Rocket start-ups are popular with investors at the moment. SLS as a job creation scheme is really harmful because it diverts skilled workers from constructive projects.

      Starship is not going to cancel SLS. The key difference between New Glenn and SLS is that Jeff has at least some clue that he is being fleeced but few US tax payers have cottoned on. Some space enthusiasts hope SLS will explode early enough in the launch to destroy the MLP. This would leave congress with the choice of taking years to build a replacement, taking years to convert the other MLP to Block 1 SLS, waiting years for Block 1B SLS or cancelling SLS. I think they could go for converting the MLP to block 1 and ordering another one for block 1B while getting enthusiastic cheers from voters for creating jobs for people who would otherwise be doing something useful.

      The only good news at the moment is progress on the Programmatic Environmental Assessment for Starship. A new delay in publication should be announced tomorrow.

  6. rocwurst

    Why doesn't the Press point out that if Congress deems it so important to dual-source the HLS Lunar Lander for redundancy, then why don't they also demand competitors for the SLS rocket, the Orion capsule and the Lunar Gateway in case of, you know, cost overruns and delays? *rolls eyes*

    I know a certain company that could field a very good alternative to SLS that is incidentally already putting in place most of the parts needed to replace SLS with their current HLS solution for 100x less expense than SLS...

    *sigh*

  7. eldakka Silver badge

    And don't forget, NASA, that now you know any bid offered by BO will be padded by $2bn, so you can talk them down by $2bn on anything they offer.

    Unless, of course, they know that you know that they know you know this, in which case they'll pad it by $4b so that it's still padded by $2b after the negotiation, therefore, NASA, you should have room for $4b in price reductions.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      So there is probably $8bn of padding in there?

      1. John Robson Silver badge
        Coat

        Can't believe I missed the opportunity to say...

        it's padding all the way down (or up)

  8. diver_dave

    I'm reminded of

    Both Star Cops and Lunar Descent by Allen Steele.

    Surely two companies providing the service is actually good. With the proviso that the priority is safety and there is adequate oversight.

    Obviously with the latter being NASA I'm not convinced that's enough. Especially given how vested Boeing are in ULA and NASA hardware in general.

  9. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge

    money awarded for attaining goals?

    How about rather than funding all the development they pay a 1st and 2nd place prizes for achieving various milestones.

    As some others have stated if this about hitting the target or is it about transferring funds to the weathly via dubious job creation schemes.

  10. Andy The Hat Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Costs anyone?

    R&D is going to be the meat of this moon flinging exercise with the actual vehicle and mission as a small proportion of the cost.

    The easy way to massively increase costs is to build two completely independent systems rather than cooperating on a single design ... Massive R&D cost, guaranteed overruns, guaranteed over budget, guaranteed fat wallets for CEOs of incumbent suppliers. The only thing not guaranteed is whether it will ever work.

    This is a political move with no scientific or economic foundation. This will cripple NASA as a research organisation.

  11. Zebo-the-Fat

    Lets wait until BO gets something into low Earth orbit first!

  12. Bigkahoona

    Blue Origin...

    Maybe Blue Origin should first focus on being more than a stratosphere free fall tower for bored billionaires before Bezos starts dreaming about going to the moon. Getting a craft into orbit would be a start, or even providing shuttle services to the ISS like SpaceX does.

  13. TeeCee Gold badge

    Bloody typical.

    So, let's just get this straight:

    1) Nasa need a lunar lander.

    2) Nasa hold a tendering process and award the contract to build a lunar lander.

    3) A company that didn't win the contract sue for ${bullshit_legal_reason}, delaying the whole process.

    4) Dumbfuck lawsuit is eventually tossed out.

    5) Lawyers trouser lots of cash from both sides.

    6) To show "competition" and shut everyone up, Nasa decide to award another lunar lander contract.

    7) Taxpayers pay for two lunar landers rather than one and a load of legal fees.

    Just one question: Exactly why aren't US taxpayers boycotting Amazon en masse as a result of Baldy Bezos chucking their cash around like confetti?

  14. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    FOMO

    Remind me again, why are we going back to the moon?

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: FOMO

      Why does anyone still bother to climb Everest?

      Sorry, wrong answer.

      It's because there is the vague (very vague) potential of long term commercial profit and power over resources but, more obviously, there is the short term potential for massive redistribution of wealth from tax payers to mega-corps.

    2. Ken G Bronze badge

      Re: FOMO

      It's easier than going direct to Mars and will solve some of the habitat challenges for the latter. I would hope there is also some energy capture and manufacturing done on the moon to build near Earth infrastructure.

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