NASA Chief Personally Ordered Safety Review of SpaceX, Boeing

Draper Laboratory in Kendall Square Cambridge

The tenders will be conducted under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which foresees exploration of the Moon's surface and the building of a lunar orbiting station called Gateway, an outpost for astronauts and spacecraft travelling to the Moon, the agency announced on November 29.

One of the nine companies will be tasked with delivering science and technology payloads to the surface of the Moon for NASA.

"When we go to the moon, we want to be one customer of many customers in a robust marketplace between the Earth and the moon".

Draper's lunar lander
Draper's lunar lander

The agency said the program was "one of the first steps toward long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars".

The good news for the companies concerned is that they are now eligible to bid for "indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity" contracts with a combined maximum value of $2.6bn during the next 10 years. SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, formerly Orbital ATK, have built space station shipments since 2012. It is an experimental part of the agency's plan for Americans to orbit the Moon starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s.

NASA hopes to test-launch the first Block 1 rocket in June 2020 on a flight called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). "We want to get ahead of it".

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However, he added that "unless better sense prevailed in India, we may have to wait for Sidhu to become (India's) Prime Minister". Khan, who spoke to a group of visiting Indian journalists at the Prime Minister's office, said Pakistan could only try.

"We don't believe there's going to be an incident, but if there is an incident-rather than waiting until there's an incident, we do a cultural assessment of our contractors [now]", he explained.

He also clearly loves being in the spotlight, and those two things don't necessarily mix well when one of your biggest partners is the US space program. Sending American astronauts into space aboard SpaceX hardware is another, and it appears NASA is going to be a lot more strict about how SpaceX and its CEO behave now that the company is in the midst of building vehicles to carry crew. Draper will manage the team and oversee the payload, flight computer, and navigation system for their lander, to be called Artemis-7.

Bridenstine confirmed he ordered safety reviews of SpaceX and Boeing, another NASA contractor, after Musk smoked on the podcast, but he said that was always the plan.

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The outline published by NASA to fulfill the Space Policy Directive, the "Exploration Campaign", focuses on three core domains for development: low Earth orbit, lunar orbit and surface, and Mars, with the option of other deep space objectives being integrated. The other companies include major defense company Lockheed Martin, as well as some startups.

Bridenstine said the first lunar payloads could be launched as early as next year, but there were few details. Missions could feasibly begin as early as 2019. "Each are entrepreneurial pioneers of commercial space bringing key capabilities to the table, and we look forward to working with them in offering robotic expeditions to the Moon for science, commerce and exploration".

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