Kennedy Space Center to award $7 billion contract for lunar missions

This NASA graphic shows segments of the lunar gateway, a planned transfer station that would orbit the moon and allow astronauts to refuel, get supplies and enter a lunar lander. Image courtesy of NASA

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 28 (UPI) — NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is close to awarding a 15-year contract for $7 billion to provide logistics support for upcoming Artemis lunar missions, a NASA official said Monday.

Big players in the aerospace industry have submitted proposals, but further information will only be released after they’re evaluated and results are announced, said Mark Wiese, manager of NASA’s Gateway Logistics Element.

The result will be a huge boost to the regional and state economies, which have rebounded following a crash during the Great Recession and end of the space shuttle program in 2011. It will be the first long-term contract to be awarded for NASA’s Artemis program, and most of the work will happen in Florida.

“Kennedy Space Center has always been the center of logistics services like this, so this is our piece of the Artemis era,” Wiese told UPI. “We want to be able to send a cargo mission into space in advance of the first crew launching, so there will be supplies and space suits for walking on the moon already up there.”

The winning contractor will be expected to provide a new spacecraft or cargo capsule with double the current capacity for resupply missions to the International Space Station, Wiese said. It also would require a capability to launch fuel at some point.

Wiese’s NASA team consists of about 100 people, and he expects the number engaged in logistics to reach 500.

SpaceX has been handling regular resupply missions to the space station with its Dragon cargo capsule launched on its Falcon 9 rockets. But SpaceX also has been developing a much larger rocket, Starship, about 20 miles from Kennedy Space Center in Cocoa, Fla. and in South Texas.

NASA is planning for a 2024 moon landing, which would be the first time astronauts would walk on the moon’s surface since 1972. Gateway will be a staging point orbiting the moon, and crewed capsules will dock with it to transfer astronauts into a lunar lander to descend to the surface.

The lander is the goal of a consortium led by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company, and it includes traditional space heavyweights Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

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In speaking to members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce in Orlando on Monday, Wiese emphasized the potential economic impact.

He said the contract will be awarded to one or several big players in aerospace, but many others will benefit — just like many small firms near the space center performed contract work on shuttle-related activities.

“The opportunity for small businesses to link into this will definitely be very big and ongoing,” Wiese said. “We also expect universities in Florida to help us push the technology. Robotics for docking at the Gateway, for example, will be important.”

Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, the state’s space marketing and development agency, said new space companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp. are leading the way, while the older space companies are the most experienced.

He said Kennedy Space Center is the most logical place for the logistics portion of future lunar missions.

“As we become an interstellar trade port, we want to be able to handle the flow of goods and material that might be coming from Japan or other parts of the world going up to space,” DiBello said..

In May, NASA awarded a contract to build the Gateway’s power and propulsion unit to Maxar Technologies of Westminster, Colo., for a total value of $375 million.

Artemis in Greek mythology was the twin sister of Apollo, the name of NASA’s previous manned missions to the moon. Apollo is the ancient Greek god of the sun and light, among other things, while Artemis is the goddess of hunting and the wilderness.

Test missions are to include Artemis 1, which will launch an unoccupied capsule. After that, Artemis would take astronauts around the moon without landing in 2022, followed by a landing. All of that will require votes in Congress to support funding, estimated at up to $30 billion through 2024.

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