Commercial partners selected for US return to the Moon
NASA's ambition to return to the Moon shifted forward today as the space agency announced nine US companies that are now eligible to bid on future lunar lander missions. The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts are aimed at building and delivering payloads to the lunar surface to test new technologies as pathfinders for a new phase of American manned Moon missions.
Almost one year ago, the Trump administration issued Policy Directive-1 NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which directed NASA away from Earth studies to concentrate more on deep space exploration. As part of this new initiative, NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) solicited proposals from private companies to support sending a steady stream of missions to the Moon's surface consisting of small payloads for science experiments and technology demonstrations.
According to NASA, the nine companies chosen on the basis of their proposals are:
- Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
- Deep Space Systems
- Firefly Aerospace, Inc.
- Intuitive Machines
- Lockheed Martin Space
- Masten Space Systems, Inc.
- Moon Express
- Orbit Beyond
The contracts are worth a maximum of US$2.6 billion over 10 years, but are open-ended, with indefinite delivery dates for an indefinite amount of technology and services. The first lunar payloads could launch as early as next year and the results will be used to support NASA's Moon to Mars Exploration Campaign by returning science and engineering data for future manned lunar and Martian landers.
"Today's announcement marks tangible progress in America's return to the Moon's surface to stay," says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "The innovation of America's aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars."
You can check out images of the draft concepts for the commercial lunar landers in the gallery.