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NASA, who won second place in the competition of commercial lunar ships, plans to try again

SANTA-FE, N.M. “The only company that failed to win a NASA contract for commercial lunar payload services last month says that in the future she will try again as she continues to develop her lunar vessel.”

On November 29, NASA entered into contracts with nine companies for the Commercial Moon Payload Service (CLPS) program, where NASA will buy space for payloads on ships that these companies are developing to transport experiments to the lunar surface. Uncertain delivery, contracts for an unspecified amount, with a total maximum value of $ 2.6 billion over 10 years, do not guarantee that companies will receive more than just a symbolic amount of money, but allow them to compete for future orders.

At the time of the announcement, NASA provided some additional information about the competition, including the total number of companies that submitted proposals. A statement on the selection of the source, published by NASA on December 20, showed that all but one of the companies that submitted the proposals received contracts.

In addition to the nine companies that received CLPS awards – Astrobotic, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond – the tenth company, Crow Industries, presented a proposal that the agency concluded was not acceptable .

NASA evaluated CLPS proposals in five categories, including the company's ability to carry out a lunar vessel mission with a payload of at least 10 kg by the end of 2021, an understanding of regulatory issues, launch plans, spacecraft design, and plans for integrating NASA payloads. All nine winning companies were rated “Acceptable” in each of the five categories.

Crow Industries, however, received an “Unacceptable” rating in two categories: the ability to go to the moon by the end of 2021 and the design of the spacecraft. He received a rating of "Potentially Acceptable" in the third category – payload processing procedures.

NASA was skeptical that the company would be able to design its ships on the proposed schedule. “The development schedule proposed by Crow was not credible and did not adequately consider or determine its path or milestones related to the development of the engine system,” concluded the board’s assessment of the source in a statement regarding the assessment of the company's “unacceptable” schedule.

The Board also concluded that “the proposed mass Crow budget is not credible regarding the payload mass and that its mass estimate for its main engines is also not credible,” explaining the “Unacceptable” rating for the spacecraft design.

The “Potentially Acceptable” score for payload processing is due to a lack of information in several areas, such as payload integration and physical security. The Board concluded that these problems can be corrected with additional information.

Dennis Andrucik, Deputy Assistant Administrator at NASA's Scientific Missions Office and the source selection authority for CLPS, accepted these assessments after what he called in the statement “in-depth discussion” with the Board. "In the light of the above reasons, I believe that the Crow proposal is currently not eligible for the award of the basic CLPS contract, and therefore I do not choose Crow to receive remuneration," he concluded.

However, he left the door open so that Crow could compete in the future. He noted that the CLPS program “assumes that the Agency can regularly receive additional rewards as part of the on-ramp process”. He wrote that "it is quite possible" that Crow will be able to solve his problems "in such a way that this Crow is entitled to receive a basic CLPS contract in the future."

Crow Industries also hopes to compete for the CLPS contract again. Ellin Hild, director of public relations in Arizona, said on December 21 that the company had offered its B1, the first in the Bifröst spacecraft series.

“As stated in the source statement, while NASA found many aspects of our offer irresistible, our Bifröst Lander architecture is still in its early stages of development, and their main task was related to the schedule needed to provide innovative design. our main engines, ”said Hild.

The company did not disclose many technical details about the Bifröst Lander program, including the engines. The company also did not disclose financial details, although a statement from NASA on the choice of source noted that Crowe had an “adequate financial plan.” In October, Crowe posted a video that showed how the B1 landing gear landed on the moon. Rover deployed two small rovers and used a robotic arm to collect lunar samples.

“Despite the fact that we have not been selected for this opportunity by CLPS, we are confident that the areas of improvement pointed out by NASA will be solved soon,” Hild said, planning to offer additional services to government and commercial customers. "We look forward to improving our systems and joining selected CLPS providers through the next opportunity in two years."

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