Trends in Government Contracting

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NASA's Artemis program

The Artemis Program and How it Has Changed NASA

by Carol Ingley
president, ingleyPRICE-TO-WIN
Week of July 6, 2020 through Week of August 3, 2020

Digital Trends and Key Words: NASA, moon missions, Mars, Mars missions, Artemis program, lunar economy, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Dynetics, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, space taxis, space tourism


It's a moon rush. A MIT Technology Review article published February 27, 2020, may state it best: “NASA’s Artemis program is heralding a moon rush, and nobody—from SpaceX to Russia—wants to be left behind.”

From a country viewpoint, China, Russia, India, Japan and South Korea are all part of the moon rush, each with their own programs. Yet a great deal of this excitement is around private companies and their involvement in this stage of space exploration. A number of billionaires and their companies are involved in this rush including Elon Musk (SpaceX), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic). There’s a new form of transportation and a new economy evolving: space taxis, space tourism, not to mention the exploration and potential finding of highly valuable minerals as well as the possibility of space manufacturing.


So just what is NASA doing -- that so many others want to as well?


NASA has stated its missions and they are exciting. The NASA website page explaining the Artemis program says it all: We Are Going to the Moon. Just a simple statement but the excitement behind those words cannot be missed.  NASA has its mojo back. Then, there’s another statement: Our Success Will Change the World. NASA is thinking very big.


Via NASA’s Artemis program, the first woman and next man will land on the moon by 2024. But it’s more than that. NASA goes on to say of its moon missions: “We will collaborate with our commercial and international partners and establish sustainable exploration [of the moon] by the end of the decade. Then, we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.”


The Artemis program is ambitious. From the moon to Mars – these are big horizons to conquer. And it’s all stated in NASA’s Artemis program’s long term goals:  1) establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon, 2) laying the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy, and finally 3) sending humans to Mars. Who wouldn’t be excited about NASA and all that it is up to over the next decades? Yet, it wasn’t so long ago that NASA didn’t seem directed. What got all of this moving?

Boots on the moon was the presidential directive. According to Wired magazine, “Ever since President Donald Trump directed NASA to get boots on the moon by 2024, the agency and its partners have been hard at work trying to make it happen.” The Space Policy Directive (issued December 11, 2017) has two key sentences that may be the reason for the new energy found at NASA:

‘‘Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations;’’ 


Landing on the moon requires a lunar lander. We have been here before during the U.S Apollo program. The Apollo Lunar Module was flown from lunar orbit to the moon’s surface (last flown in 1972) and is, to this day, the only crewed vehicle to land outside of the earth. But that won’t be true for long. There needs, of course, to be a new lunar lander. A few months ago, NASA chose three companies to award contracts to develop a crewed lunar lander.


According to a NASA press release dated April 30, 2020, Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX were awarded the following for the development of lunar landers:


1) Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, is developing the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) – a three-stage lander to be launched on its own New Glenn Rocket System and ULA Vulcan launch system.  2) Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS) – a single structure providing the ascent and descent capabilities that will launch on the ULA Vulcan launch system.  3) SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is developing the Starship – a fully integrated lander that will use the SpaceX Super Heavy rocket.


The recent collaboration between SpaceX and NASA to get astronauts back into space--in this case, to the international space station--is a signal that private companies are starting to carry the load now (pun intended). It’s a flashing green light saying that it’s full speed ahead  back to the moon and entrepreneurial  companies are more than welcome. Yet how did SpaceX zoom to the front of the line here?


According to the Florida Today article How Elon Musk beat Boeing in the commercial space race to launch NASA astronauts, Robert Scoble, a Silicon Valley tech blogger, says, “That’s the Silicon Valley approach; you start out with a clean slate. It’s called First Principles thinking. Let’s question everything. They’re not thinking about what came before. They really don’t care. They’re looking at the problem fresh and using any tool they can to give them an edge.


It's a new space game. Whether it’s the Silicon Valley approach or that the timing is right for private companies or both, NASA with its collaborators – both new and traditional companies -- are creating a new game that’s all about the moon and space economy. It’s an ambitious game, one with potentially far-reaching consequences. One of the rules of this new game? No one knows what those far-reaching consequences are.


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