(Reuters) – NASA on Thursday selected space companies SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics to build lunar landing systems that can transport astronauts to the moon by 2024, the White House's accelerated deadline under the moon-to-Mars campaign of the space agency.
The three companies, which include companies owned by billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, will share $ 967 million from NASA, although specific amounts that each company will receive are not immediately known.
Boeing Co (BANKING) proposed a lander concept last year, but were not selected.
"This is the last piece we need to reach the moon," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters on Thursday, calling the agency's first lunar landing acquisition since 1972 "historic."
Unlike the Apollo program, which put astronauts on the Moon nearly 50 years ago, NASA is preparing for a long-term presence on Earth's satellite that, according to the agency, will allow humans to reach Mars, leaning heavily in private companies built around shared views. space exploration.
The choice of three suppliers allows NASA to have redundancy in the event that a company falls behind in development, Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA's human landing systems program manager, told reporters on Thursday.
"I think we have the potential for an incredibly exciting future in space based on the moon and, ultimately, sending people and having a self-sustaining city on Mars," said Musk, who also leads the electric car company Tesla, on Thursday. market. .
Last year, Bezos presented the Blue Origin design for the lunar module, Blue Moon, which he plans to build as a primary contractor for Lockheed Martin (LMT.N), Northrop Grumman (NOC.N) and Draper. Blue Origin plans to launch its landing system using its own heavy rocket, New Glenn.
Musk's SpaceX, which is about to launch its first manned mission to NASA next month, will develop its Starship landing system to send crew and up to 100 pounds of cargo to the moon.
Dynetics, a unit of Leidos Holdings Inc (LDOS.N), develops a human landing system, which the joint venture Boeing-Lockheed, United Launch Alliance, will launch on its Vulcan system.
BOEING NOT CHOSEN
Cutting Boeing out of a major NASA space flight effort is a blow to the space wing of the aerospace giant, which for decades has been a major contractor for the International Space Station and, more recently, a secondary supplier in NASA's efforts to launch beings to the station under its Commercial Crew Program.
NASA said it removed Boeing and another company as bidders for the lunar lander award early in the selection process, although a specific reason was not immediately clear.
Last month, Boeing lost to competitor SpaceX in a separate competition for cargo delivery services to a lunar space station, with NASA saying in a memo: "Boeing's proposal was the highest and lowest in the factor mission adequacy ".
In the past few months, NASA has been quicker in calling Boeing to fumble with several of the agency's programs, such as delays on the Space Launch System, which remains years behind, billions over budget and has suffered dozens of engineering setbacks.
The Space Launch System, which has not yet flown, is currently NASA's ride to transport humans from Earth and to the Moon by 2024, but the rocket's debut mission has already retreated a year until 2021.
Reporting by Joey Roulette, additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil; Edition by Ramakrishnan M. and Maju Samuel