Companies Blue Origin and SpaceX began work on cargo versions of their piloted lunar landing vehicles. Both companies also have contracts with NASA to develop landing equipment for crewed space flights.
NASA used the options of the state-owned HLS, provided by Blue Origin and SpaceX, to begin work on the preliminary design and development of versions of landing vehicles capable of delivering large volumes of cargo to the lunar surface.
«In the last few months we asked both of our suppliers — SpaceX and Blue Origin — to start applying their work on the development of versions of landing devices, designed to transport people, to develop cargo variants, capable of delivering large cargoes to the surface», — reported Amit Kshatriya, deputy Senior Administrator of the program «From the Moon to Mars» within the framework of the Mission on Development of Space Exploration Systems program at NASA, during a press conference. However, NASA did not provide other details about this initiative, focusing on announcing the retention of upcoming Artemis missions.
According to NASA representative Katherine Hambleton in a statement dated January 19, this work is conducted within the framework of the HLS contract with Blue Origin, concluded in May 2023, and the contract Option B with SpaceX, concluded in November 2022, which replaced the initial contract with SpaceX from April 2021 year. These options provide for work up to a preliminary review of the project and do not require additional funding, apart from $3.4 billion for Blue Origin and $1.15 billion for Option B of the SpaceX contract.
«NASA expects that these large cargo landing vehicles will have a high degree of commonality with the human delivery systems to Luna currently being developed, with some changes in the interfaces of the cargo and the launch system. Preliminary design requirements include the delivery of 12-15 tons to the lunar surface, ”says NASA in a statement.
NASA also stated that there were no yet identified payloads for these landing vehicles. The earliest possibility of using cargo landing devices is the Artemis 7 mission, which is planned for the early 2030s.
Neither of the companies has publicly discussed work on cargo versions of their landing vehicles. Ilon Musk mentioned the possibility of using his company’s spacecraft Starship to send large cargo to Luna in the presentation SpaceX 12 January. «We want to significantly exceed NASA’s requirements — to send enough cargo to the Moon and with sufficient frequency so that a permanently inhabited lunar base could be located there», — he said.
Blue Origin and SpaceX are not the only companies working on large cargo vehicles. ESA is in the early stages of development of the Argonaut spacecraft for future Artemis missions. According to current plans, Argonaut will be able to deliver about two tons of cargo, which is much less than what NASA offers with the cargo variants of HLS.
The options for developing cargo landing vehicles that NASA used are not the first contracts with companies related to the delivery of cargo to Luna. NASA selected these companies, along with three others, in the second round of the CLPS program in November 2019. SpaceX proposed Starship, which, according to the company, would be capable of delivering up to 100 tons of cargo to Earth.