NASA has announced the first three contracts for unmanned lunar landing missions as part of the Artemis program that will see US astronauts returning to the Moon by 2024. Under the space agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), the three commercial landers will support both science experiments and technology demonstrations, with the payloads to be selected by NASA during the third quarter of this year.

According to NASA, the payloads for the three missions will include lunar science experiments, surface radiation measurements, testing new navigation and landing technologies, and measuring the effect of landings and EVA activities on the lunar environment. The contractors will provide end-to-end services for the missions from development, to launch, to landing.

The contracts were awarded to:

Astrobotic of Pittsburgh: An award of US$79.5 million to land 14 payloads in the Lacus Mortis crater south of the Mare Frigoris crater near the lunar north pole by July 2021.

Intuitive Machines of Houston: A $77 million contract to set down up to five payloads in the Oceanus Procellarum by July 2021.

Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey: $97 million to land up to four payloads on Mare Imbrium by September 2020.

The goal of the missions will be to help NASA in developing more advanced unmanned landers as well as the ones that will carry American astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since 1972, which is the first phase of NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans. The second phase aims to establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028, as well as pave the way for the first manned Mars mission. To support this, the agency has sent out payload requests to the nine CLPS contractors originally selected in 2018.

"Our selection of these U.S. commercial landing service providers represents America's return to the Moon's surface for the first time in decades, and it's a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans," says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years. Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit."

The video below discusses the new contracts.

Source: NASA

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