Jeff Foust, for SpaceNews:
In a procurement filing issued late April 26, NASA updated an earlier notice published April 8 that announced plans to solicit proposals for an ascent stage for a human-rated lunar lander. Instead, the upcoming procurement will seek proposals for “a complete integrated lander” that includes an ascent module as well as a descent module and transfer stage.
This is the change that gives me any glimmer of hope to see a lunar landing in 2024. Before this, I would have bet on the architecture consisting of an Orion-derived ascent stage built by Lockheed Martin, a Blue Moon descent stage built by Blue Origin, and an ESM/ATV-derived transfer stage built by Europe. That would have doled out the pieces nicely in a typical NASA fashion, but it also would have created approximately 100 spots for delays to crop up.
With complete integrated landers being back in the realm of possibility, anything could happen. From SpaceX’s Starship, to a full Blue Moon lander.
On that note, Blue Origin teased an announcement on May 9. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t about Blue Moon and their intentions to land near the lunar South Pole. If Blue wants to get into a big NASA program, large cargo and human lunar landers are where they can do it. They missed out on Commercial Cargo and Crew, but they’re well-positioned to build a lander on the scale that we need.
It sounds like Skinny Gateway is the way to go for a 2024 attempt—that is, merely some propulsion and a docking node for transferring between vehicles. Orion can’t get into anything lower than NRHO, so some propulsion and vehicle transfer is needed if Orion is in the picture.