NASA delays starting contract with SpaceX for Gateway cargo services

WASHINGTON — Greater than a yr after deciding on SpaceX to ship cargo to the lunar Gateway, NASA has but to formally begin that contract because it performs a broader evaluate of its Artemis program.

NASA introduced in March 2020 that it awarded a contract to SpaceX for the company’s Gateway Logistics Providers program to move cargo to the lunar Gateway. SpaceX beat out proposals from Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada Company for the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, with a most worth of $7 billion over its 15-year life.

For the reason that announcement, neither NASA nor SpaceX have offered many updates on the contract or the event of the Dragon XL spacecraft that the corporate plans to make use of to hold out the cargo missions to the Gateway. Every Dragon XL, launching on a Falcon Heavy, is designed to move at the very least 5 metric tons of pressurized and unpressurized cargo on the Gateway and in addition eliminate trash on the finish of its mission.

One NASA official acknowledged at a latest assembly that, a yr after awarding the contract, work on the contract has but to start. “We’ve chosen SpaceX, and we’re nonetheless engaged on once we’re going to begin that contract and all of the completely different particulars, once we’re even going to have the ability to work with them on these forms of issues,” stated Dina Contella, supervisor for mission integration and utilization within the Gateway program, throughout an April 9 assembly of a Nationwide Academies committee supporting the continued planetary science decadal survey.

She was responding to a query concerning the potential use of the Dragon XL cargo car for internet hosting scientific payloads throughout or after its mission to the Gateway. SpaceX is occupied with supporting such analysis, she stated, however there’s been little dialogue up to now between NASA and SpaceX on how to take action. “Now we have but to actually kick off our discussions on that post-departure science with them, based mostly on our contract standing.”

NASA, in an announcement offered to table4 April 14, stated it has but to formally authorize SpaceX to proceed on the Gateway Logistics Providers contract as a result of the company is learning the general schedule of the Artemis lunar exploration program, of which growth and use of the Gateway is only one half.

“An company inside Artemis evaluate group is at the moment assessing the timing of varied Artemis capabilities, together with Gateway. The objective of this inside evaluate is to guage the present Artemis program finances and timeline, and develop high-level plans that embrace content material, schedule, and budgets for this system,” the company said.

“The timing for the Gateway Logistics Providers program’s authorization to proceed can be decided following conclusion of the evaluate,” NASA added, however offered no schedule for finishing the evaluate.

A NASA procurement database exhibits that the company has obligated a bit greater than $14 million on its Gateway Logistics Providers contract with SpaceX. Most of that — $12.7 million — got here from a pair of contract modifications in September 2020 to cowl work on enhanced communications and “heavy ion surroundings testing” for operations in cislunar area. These two contract modifications are the latest actions on the contract.

One other contact modification earlier in September 2020, valued at about $680,000, was described within the database as “Requirement Change Analysis for Gateway Logistics Providers Threat Mitigation On account of delayed Authority to Proceed.”

It’s not clear when missions to the Gateway that require cargo delivered by SpaceX will start. NASA now expects to launch the primary two Gateway modules, the Energy and Propulsion Factor (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy in 2024 beneath a contract awarded Feb. 9. Extra components from worldwide companions, together with Canada, Europe and Japan, will comply with.

The soonest astronauts would go to the Gateway could be the Artemis 3 mission, launching no sooner than 2024. Nevertheless, Contella famous in her presentation that NASA was nonetheless learning the choice of getting the Orion spacecraft for Artemis 3 dock straight with the lunar lander, relatively than have each Orion and the lander dock with the Gateway as deliberate for later Artemis missions.

As soon as crews begin visiting the Gateway, Contella stated she anticipated the necessity for one cargo resupply mission per crewed mission, which is able to carry provides and gear for the astronauts staying on the Gateway and doubtlessly further science payloads. “It will likely be capable of present fairly quite a lot of payloads. The primary challenge is simply the quantity of upmass required basically for the crewed missions,” she stated. “There’s loads of logistics required only for the mission itself.”

NASA is occupied with utilizing the lunar Gateway for science, with experiments each mounted on its exterior and contained in the modules. That features, Contella stated, the opportunity of utilizing the Dragon XL spacecraft for experiments as soon as it departs the Gateway on the finish of its resupply mission. The spacecraft is not going to return to Earth however as a substitute be disposed in a heliocentric orbit.

“We’re investigating the potential use of our Gateway logistics modules, the SpaceX car, in offering payload assist providers after the logistics module has departed Gateway,” she stated. “If it’s going to heliocentric area, then you’ll be able to proceed to check your science after it has departed.”

“That can value cash for operations,” she added, “nevertheless it would possibly allow some vital science. We’ll should work with our SpaceX vendor on that.”

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