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NASA delayed funding for «Artemis». The return of Americans to the moon may be overturned
31.01.2021 [23:20],
Konstantin Khodakovsky

Last week, NASA postponed plans for two important contracts for manned lunar lander projects as part of Donald Trump’s accelerated program to get astronauts to the moon by 2024. The new administration is expected to tackle more pressing national issues.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Dynetics, owned by military contractor Leidos, won $ 967 million in initial funding from NASA last year to develop competing concepts for a human landing system on the moon. This is the space agency’s first investment in astronauts’ lunar landing missions since the Apollo program in the 1970s.

Conceptual image of the approach of the «Human Landing System» to the Moon under the «Artemis» program, NASA

Last Wednesday, NASA told three contractors that a delay is required until April 30 to conclude contracts for further funding. At the same time, according to the schedule of the Trump administration, the agency should have chosen two winners at the end of February, whose systems will deliver people to the moon.

The delay was expected: the budget passed by Congress in December provided NASA with only $ 850 million under the «Human Landing System», which is much less than the $ 3.2 billion previously allocated under the program until 2024, which NASA has not yet abandoned.

NASA attributes the delay to the need for additional time to evaluate the bidders’ proposals, but added that depending on the circumstances, the conclusion of contracts may take place earlier than the designated date. The agency also says it will give participants additional time to tweak their systems.

Artistic visualization of the separation of the spacecraft from the lander and takeoff from the lunar surface, NASA

SpaceX’s lunar lander is Starship, a fully reusable vehicle that the company performs in short test flights at an altitude of more than 10 km — the so-called «jumps» — at its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. The company received $ 135 million in seed funding for the development of this ship.

Blue Origin gets the largest «share of the pie» in the amount of $ 579 million for the development of the Blue Moon lander. In 2021, the company announced the creation of a national aerospace team composed of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to work on the project. Finally, Dynetics received $ 253 million for its lander and partnered with Sierra Nevada Corp.

Jim Bridenstine, the Trump-appointed NASA chief and initiator of the Artemis program in 20221, stepped down on inauguration day, handing over agency management to his assistant Steve Jurczyk as acting administrator.

Joseph Biden’s team has yet to select its NASA chief or voice any space policy goals, but it is expected to slow the implementation of Artemis, the lunar mission by 2024. Today this date is increasingly called unreal. This month, the administration announced its composition of the White House Science and Technology Policy Office, selecting cutting-edge geneticist Eric Lander as Biden’s chief science advisor.

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