NASA has selected 14 companies for contracts of more than $370 million to advance technology for human missions to the moon and Mars. Most of the money will support flight demonstrations by SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and other companies that could lead to in-space refueling and propellant depots for reusable lunar landers and deep space transportation vehicles.
The next time astronauts land on the moon, they will ride to the lunar surface in a spacecraft that looks a lot different than the Apollo-era landing module last used in 1972. Lander concepts proposed by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics — which won a combined $967 million in NASA funding Thursday — take wildly different approaches to carrying crews to the moon.
NASA expects to select a launch vehicle next year to carry the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope — a multibillion-dollar flagship astrophysics observatory targeted for cancellation by the Trump administration — into space in 2025 after the mission passed a key review last month, agency officials said.
A flight demonstration of an inflatable heat shield that could be used to retrieve reusable engines from United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket, and for the delivery of heavier cargo to the surface of Mars, is planned for launch in late 2021 or early 2022 as a piggyback payload on an Atlas 5 rocket with a NOAA weather satellite.
The U.S. Air Force has committed $109 million in funding to advance development of new rockets designed by United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman, leaving out SpaceX in a government investment round that will lead to the military’s selection of two long-term launch providers in late 2019 or 2020.
Ending months of speculation, Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, has won a milestone contract to provide first-stage rocket engines for a powerful new booster being designed by United Launch Alliance to replace its current fleet of Atlas and Delta launchers, the companies announced Thursday.