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NASA Partners on Blue Moon and Starship, and Shuffles CLPS Providers

There’s been a flurry of news on the lunar landing front in the last few days.

It started off with the termination of OrbitBeyond’s CLPS task order. Their quasi-or-maybe-actual-shell corporation setup always seemed odd, and ultimately was their downfall here.

We’ll see if they win another task order, but in the meantime, NASA is starting the process of on-ramping new CLPS providers. Most interesting to me in the new call for providers is the extension of the landing ability date from December 2021 to 2024, which NASA explained in the related Q&A document:

The rationale for this change is that commercial entities seek to develop very capable lander systems that may be ready after 2021 and it may be preferable that such organizations be included now in the CLPS catalog versus later after a future on-ramp process. NASA has stated that the CLPS Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract is designed to last a decade but be immediately useful to NASA to understand payload accommodations, pricing, and schedule of providers. Extending the landing ability date to 2024 is more in keeping with the IDIQ’s procurement strategy and allows NASA to prepare for the mid to large payloads that will need not only more time for development but more discussions on interfaces with providers.

That already sounded a lot like an attempt to get bigger landers like Blue Moon and Starship into the CLPS program, and then there was even more news.

NASA is partnering with 13 companies on technology for the Moon and Mars. Among a whole host of other interesting technologies, they’re working with Blue Origin on navigation and guidance systems, fuel cells, and “high-temperature materials for liquid rocket engine nozzles,” all presumably for Blue Moon.

And most excitingly, NASA is partnering with SpaceX on two things: “to advance their technology to vertically land large rockets on the Moon” (and specifically “to assess engine plume interaction with lunar regolith”), and “to advance technology needed to transfer propellant in orbit” specifically for Starship, which was called out by name by NASA for the first time.

These partnerships are fantastic news for NASA, Blue Origin, and SpaceX, and the one regarding propellant transfer is particularly interesting as it has been a politically fraught area of research.

Just three days ago on the podcast I said that given the momentum we’re seeing, soon enough people would start asking why NASA wasn’t involved with Blue Moon and Starship. Now they don’t have to ask.