NASA postpones the Artemis lunar rover award for four months

NASA lunar rover

WASHINGTON — NASA has delayed awarding contracts to develop a lunar rover for future Artemis missions by four months, raising concerns in industry about the future of the program.

NASA intended to award the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) services contract in November. In the final request for proposals issued on May 26, NASA said it expects to present one or more awards on November 27. At the time it issued the RFP, these proposals were scheduled to be submitted on July 13, a date later changed to July 26.

However, in recent weeks, NASA changed the expected contract award to March 31, 2024. This change, made on the procurement website, did not reveal the reason for the four-month delay.

A NASA spokesperson said on October 30 that the agency had delayed the award “to allow additional time to evaluate the proposals,” but did not elaborate.

Industry officials, speaking on background due to ongoing purchases, speculated that the delay may be related to uncertainty about NASA’s budget in fiscal year 2024. They said the delay until the end of March may give NASA more time to determine how much money will be available for LTV efforts next year. , including whether they will be able to fund more than one award.

Several companies have announced their plans to compete for the LTV contract, including startups such as Astrolab and Intuitive Machines as well as established companies such as Leidos, Lockheed Martin, and Teledyne Brown. This has led to unique partnerships, such as Lockheed’s work with automaker General Motors and Leidos’ partnership with stock car racing company NASCAR. NASA expects to begin using the rovers on the Artemis 5 mission at the end of the decade.

As with some other elements of Artemis, NASA plans to purchase the lunar rover LTV as a service, with companies that own the rovers and be able to use them for other applications when they are not needed for Artemis missions. In other service contracts, NASA has selected at least two providers, but for the Long-Term Vehicle (LTV), NASA has only said it will select one or more providers.

NASA and some companies have argued that the services approach saves the agency money while freeing up companies to try innovative approaches and seek out non-NASA clients. But this support is not universal.

Speaking at the American Astronautical Society’s Von Braun Space Exploration Symposium on October 27, former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin discussed “the unfortunate inversion of the square wave from government all the time in space to if it’s not commercial, why bother with it.” Do it?”

Griffin did not specifically mention LTV programs or other programs that have taken a services approach, but he said the shift to commercial approaches has deprived government agencies of doing “a certain amount of work themselves,” in the process building expertise that they can then apply to other programs.

He also said that companies that advocate commercial methods do so because they want government money without the rules and regulations involved in traditional government contracting methods. “Until we can get back to the correct definition of a commercial, we’ll just be kidding ourselves.”

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