NASA issued a request for proposals for the Altair lunar lander that will transport astronauts from the next-generation Orion space capsule (crew exploration vehicle) orbiting the moon down to the lunar surface.

Altair would be one of three major vehicles in the U.S. effort to return to the moon: the lunar lander, the space capsule and the Ares rocket family.

Proposals are due Feb. 27.

The Constellation Program will use Altair to land four astronauts on the moon following launch aboard an Ares V rocket and rendezvous in low Earth orbit with the Orion capsule that will be launched on Ares I.

NASA, in the Constellation Program, is leading development of the Orion space capsule (crew exploration vehicle) by Lockheed Martin [LMT]. Orion and the Altair lunar lander will be boosted by the Ares rocket that will have various components developed by The Boeing [BA], ATK [ATK], and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a unit of United Technologies [UTX].

Some of those companies might be interested in pursuing the Altair lander design, development and production work.

The new Constellation Program differs from the old Apollo program of the 1960s and 1970s, with the Orion space capsule being far larger than the first spacecraft that touched down on the moon to deliver a crew of U.S. astronauts, Earthlings, to another heavenly body.

Also, while the Apollo missions involved spending just a few days on the moon, the Constellation Program sees longer stays at first (lunar missions will begin around 2020), and later a permanent manned outpost on the moon.

Altair will provide astronauts with life support and a base for weeklong initial surface exploration missions of the moon. The lander also will return the crew to the moon- orbiting Orion spacecraft that then will return them home to Earth.

That is similar to how the Apollo lunar exploration system worked.

This contract will provide resources to conduct NASA-directed engineering tasks for evaluating vehicle conceptual designs, maturing the vehicle design and reviewing the products for system requirements reviews and system definition reviews. It is anticipated that multiple awards will be made as a result of this solicitation.

Johnson will manage the contracts, which will be awarded through a full and open competition. Selections will be made in the spring.

For more information about the request for proposal, visit: