Tuesday , May 18 2021

NASA is offering $ 2.6 billion to convince 9 companies to land on the moon

The last time the NASA spacecraft safely landed on the moon was December 1972. But, almost half a century after Apollo 17, the space agency has a slate to return.

NASA announced on Thursday that it offers up to $ 2.6 billion contracts for nine US companies to return the agency to the surface of the moon.

NASA will not buy the company's full lunar landings, nor will it take the responsibility for launching, landing or controlling robots. Instead, NASA wants the private sector to tackle these challenges and strive for the opportunity to use NASA's experiments on the moon.

"We are doing something that has never been done before," said Jim Bidenstein, NASA administrator, during a live broadcast on Thursday. "When we go to the moon, we want to be one customer to many customers on a robust market between the Earth and the Moon."

read more: Astronauts explain why no one has visited the moon in more than 45 years – and the reasons are depressing

Bridgestone added that the goal is to exploit the new international demand – both commercial and from other countries' agencies – to land and exploit the resources of the moon.

He is considering $ 2.6 billion worth of potential deals (it's unlikely that all this money will be spent) as a way to encourage companies to "compete with costs and innovations so that we, like NASA, can we do more than we have been able before ".

A lunar science-led research program

A site of "cold traps" in the lunar craters on the north pole (left) on the moon and the south pole (right). Green and liquid points show locations where ice water may be present on or near the surface.

Efforts are a new phase of the NASA Commercial Lunar Services (CLPS) program, which aims to foster commercial missions on the moon. Bridgestone said that NASA's scientific division will decide how the money is spent, not its human research.

"The moon is full of secrets we do not know," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Assistant Associate for Science at today's briefing.

Zurbuchen explained that the agency will create a catalog of loads for companies to bid for the takeover of the moon. The first round of proposals is expected in January, NASA announced in a statement. The first missions could fly to the moon in 2019, albeit probably by the end of 2022.

Illustration of the concept of the lunar orbital platform-NASA's Boeing portal.

In addition to enabling scientific experiments that could refine what we know about the age of the solar system and the universe, CLPS can also be a stepping stone to researching human space.

If successful, the program can pinpoint research sites with NASA's "Moon Orbital Platform-Portal": a human space station to be built near the moon for some time in the 2020s.

"There is water on the moon," says Zurbuchen, "the moon has precious resources." "We want to learn how to use these resources because – guess what? – We want to go back to people and actually use those resources to get them back to Earth or burn, breathe, and drink."

read more: The moon has ice on its surface in hundreds of places – and can be "the first step in building a space economy"

Water can turn into hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be used as rocket fuel to create an ambitious exploitation of the deep space (including the one on Mars). Later, NASA could use this competition to request much larger planes that could take people to and from the moon's surface by the end of the 2020s.

"In the end, we'll take it to Mars from the moon," said Bridgestone. "We want to use the ice water, which we believe is available in hundreds of billions of tonnes on the surface of the moon."

The 9 companies invited to compete for billions of NASA

Illustration of the legendary Moon of the Moon of Astrobotic Technology.
Astrobotic Technology

In alphabetical order, these are the nine companies NASA thinks are tasked with getting their experiments on the moon (and possibly backward):

  • Astrobotic Technology (based in Pittsburgh)
  • Deep Space Systems (based in Littleton, Colorado)
  • Draper (based in Cambridge, Massachusetts)
  • Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (based in Cedar Park, Texas)
  • Intuitive Machines, LLC (headquartered in Houston)
  • Lockheed Martin Space (based in Littleton, Colorado)
  • Masten Space Systems, Inc. (based in Mohave, California)
  • Moon Express (based in Cape Canaveral, Florida)
  • OrbitBeyond (headquartered in Edison, New Jersey)

NASA says this list can be expanded and these companies will not be alone in their commercial efforts.

Tom Baur / Reuters

Many of the nine companies use subcontractors to build landing systems and aircraft, and they will all need private rocket rides to the moon, as NASA will not be ready to fly for years.

SpaceX, the airline founded by Elon Mask, has a new Sokol rocket, which is powerful enough to send a large space ship or more small aircraft to the moon for perhaps less than $ 100 million.

There is also Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos. In October, Blue Origin said it was "in conceptual design" for the construction of a large lunar lander called "Blue Moon". The company also creates a missile system called the New Glen, which can fly through 2020.

Illustration of the New Glenn rocket for re-use of Blue Origin in space.
Blue origin


One of the nine NASA companies, Astrobotics, formed in 2007 during the Google Lunar X Award. That $ 20 million competition was designed to encourage private exploration of the moon, but the match was closed in 2018 without a winner. However, Astrobotic continued to develop a small lunar lander called Peregrine. (Before the announcement of NASA, Business Insider independently confirmed that "AstroBotik" will be one of the trading partners.)

In March, Astrobotic reportedly worked with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to find space for a rocket that could fly Peggy's to the moon sometime in 2020. "Space News" announced in May that Astrobotic was preparing to load 12 loads on the Moon's surface.

Then, in August, Astrobotic received $ 10 million from NASA to create a low cost, reliable, high performance, stand-alone landing system for commercial lunar spacecraft on the moon. The funding was part of the $ 44 million award NASA gave to companies that are developing space deployment technologies for space exploration.

In contrast to NASA's previous efforts to return to the moon's surface – all of which are scattered – Bridgestine said the CLPS program will succeed.

"This will not be again," Lucy and Football, "he said, referring to the famous comic" Peanut "(in which Charlie Brown never gets a football).

"Everyone is ready to return to the moon," added Bridgestone.

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