Blue Origin and SpaceX have begun work on cargo versions of their manned lunar landers. Both companies also have contracts with NASA to develop landers for crewed spaceflight.
NASA used HLS government award options provided by Blue Origin and SpaceX to begin work on the initial design and development of versions of landers capable of delivering large volumes of cargo to the lunar surface.
“Over the past few months, we have asked both of our suppliers—SpaceX and Blue Origin—to begin applying their work developing human-carrying versions of landers to developing cargo variants capable of delivering large payloads to the surface,” the company said in a press release. conference Amit Kshatriya, deputy senior administrator of the Moon to Mars mission for the development of space exploration systems at NASA. However, NASA did not provide other details about the initiative, focusing on announcing delays to upcoming Artemis missions.
The work is being done under the HLS contract with Blue Origin, awarded in May 2023, and the Option B contract with SpaceX, awarded in November 2022, which modified the original SpaceX contract from April, NASA spokeswoman Katherine Hambleton said in a Jan. 19 statement. 2021. These options provide for work up to the preliminary design review and do not require additional funding beyond Blue Origin's $3.4 billion and SpaceX's $1.15 billion Option B contract.
“NASA expects these large cargo landers to have a high degree of commonality with the lunar delivery systems currently under development, with some changes to the cargo interfaces and deployment system. Preliminary design requirements include delivery of 12–15 tons to the lunar surface,” NASA said in a statement.
NASA also said that the payloads for these landers have not yet been identified. An early opportunity to use cargo landers is the Artemis 7 mission, which is planned for the early 2030s.
Neither company has publicly discussed working on cargo versions of its landers. Elon Musk mentioned the possibility of his company using the Starship spacecraft to send large payloads to the moon in a SpaceX presentation on January 12. “We want to significantly exceed NASA's requirements to send enough cargo to the Moon and with enough frequency that there can be a permanent lunar base there,” he said.
Blue Origin and SpaceX aren't the only companies working on large cargo vehicles. ESA is in the initial phase of developing the Argonaut spacecraft for future Artemis missions. Under current plans, Argonaut will be able to deliver about two tons of cargo, which is much less than what NASA is offering with HLS cargo variants.
The cargo lander options that NASA has pursued are not the first contracts with companies to deliver cargo to the Moon. NASA selected these companies, along with three others, in the second round of the CLPS program in November 2019. SpaceX has proposed Starship, which the company says is capable of delivering up to 100 tons of cargo to the Moon.