NASA Eyes Northrop for Mars Ascent Mars Ascent Propulsion System Contract

Jeff Brody

NASA intends to award a sole-source contract to Northrop Grumman’s (NYSE: NOC) innovation systems business to provide propulsion systems for the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

A presolicitation notice posted Tuesday says NASA plans to procure 10 units of first-stage solid rocket motors and 10 second-stage solid rocket motors with Thrust Vector Control systems for the MAV.

MAV is a two-stage vehicle that could be launched from the surface of Mars to deploy tubes carrying soil and rock samples into Mars orbit, which can be captured by an orbiting spacecraft before returning to Earth as part of a Mars sample return mission.

The space agency will require three demonstrations tests, three qualification tests, a single flight test and one each of spare, flight and inert engineering units for each stage of solid rocket motor. The potential five-year contract includes shipping, ground support equipment and other logistics services and is expected to run through October 2025.

NASA wants the engineering units to be delivered by May 2023, followed by the flight test units by November 2023 and spare and flight units by January 2024. The agency expects the ascent vehicle to be ready by January 2026 in preparation for the launch of a Mars sample return lander by July 2026.

NASA said Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is the only contractor that can meet the MAV requirements because it has a propellant and Super Sonic Split Line nozzle concepts at technical readiness level 8.

The agency will accept capability statements from interested stakeholders through April 22 and evaluate the submissions to determine whether or not to carry out a full and open competition for the procurement effort.

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