NASA has selected these American companies to develop human lunar spacecraft

11 companies selected under $45.5 million contract

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

Artist’s concept of a human landing system and its crew on the lunar surface. NASA announced 11 companies that will develop hardware and conduct studies for the Artemis program. (Image: NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA is stepping on the gas with its plan to return astronauts to the moon in the next five years, revealing Thursday a list of American companies selected to conduct studies and produce prototypes of spacecraft that could shuttle humans to and from the moon.

The Trump administration announced this week it is asking Congress for $1.6 billion more to support President Donald Trump’s goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2024 under a program being called “Artemis."

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said $1.6 billion is enough for 2020. But more money will be needed in the years ahead to land "the next man and the first woman" at the south pole of the moon by 2024.

To execute NASA’s plan, the space agency said it will need a spacecraft for the journey from the space station-like lunar Gateway, to low-lunar orbit, a descent craft to carry humans down to the moon and an ascent spacecraft to return to them to the lunar Gateway.

Bridenstine has said a big part of NASA's Artemis program will include public-private partnerships. On Thursday, NASA revealed what private companies it has selected to help met its goals.

NASA awarded a combined $45.5 million through Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, contracts, to 11 companies that "will study and/or develop prototypes during the next six months that reduce schedule risk for the descent, transfer, and refueling elements of a potential human landing system," according to a NASA news release.

The companies must also put up at least 20 percent of the total project costs.

“This new approach doesn’t prescribe a specific design or number of elements for the human landing system,” said Greg Chavers, human landing system formulation manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “NASA needs the system to get our astronauts on the surface and return them home safely, and we’re leaving a lot of the specifics to our commercial partners.”

The awardees NASA selected to test and develop these needed elements are from eight states. The select group includes companies most know, including SpaceX and Boeing, but also smaller companies that this contract will have a huge impact on.

Here's the full list and what they are tasked with:

  • Aerojet Rocketdyne, based in Canoga Park, California will conduct one transfer vehicle study.
  • Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington-- but with a big footprint in Brevard County, too -- will conduct one moon descent element study, one transfer vehicle study and one transfer vehicle prototype. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos revealed his company's moon lander Blue Moon last week.
  • Boeing in Houston will develop one descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype.
  • Dynetics, of Huntsville, Alabama is tasked with one descent element study and five descent element prototypes.
  • Lockheed Martin, in Littleton, Colorado will conduct one descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study and one refueling element study.
  • Masten Space Systems, Mojave, California will develop one descent element prototype.
  • Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, in Dulles, Virginia will conduct one descent element study, develop four descent element prototypes, conduct one refueling element study and develop one refueling element prototype.
  • OrbitBeyond, based in Edison, New Jersey will develop two refueling element prototypes.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation, in Louisville, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin, will conduct one descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype and conduct one refueling element study.
  • SpaceX, which is based in California but launches from Florida and California will conduct one descent element study.
  • SSL, of Palo Alto, California will conduct one refueling element study and develop one refueling element prototype, which is also known as Maxar.

Check back for more information. This story will be updated.

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