NASA strives to return to the surface of the moon.
In November, the agency marked nine American companies that were offered payload services (CLPS) contracts for the delivery of robot-based NASA payloads on the Moon via Commercial Lunar. NASA officials announced on Thursday (14 February) that the first "order" for such a shipment is expected to be released in about a month, and that the flight will follow in a relatively short time.
"For us, if we had a wish, I would like to fly this calendar year," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Assistant Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, during a media roundtable webcast at the agency's Washington headquarters. 21
"We value speed, we want to start shooting at goal," said Zurbuchen, noting that NASA offers financial incentives to eligible companies Get up faster from the ground.
NASA is ready to take some risks in these early days to advance the development of the CLPS program and the commercial moon delivery business adding, "We do not expect any of these launches or landings to be successful The nine companies selected by NASA in November are Astrobotic, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space and Mast Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.
These outfits will be battling for various payloads over the coming months and years, NASA officials said. For example, some launches will involve scientific tools designed to help solve moon mysteries, while others will provide resources and other technology demonstrators to pave the way for human settlement.
At least the most important lunar resource to be used initially is water. The lunar surface has much of this stuff trapped on the permanently shaded soils of the polar craters as ice. This water will aid in the settlement and further exploration of the Moon, not just by quenching the thirst of astronauts, NASA officials say. Water can also be split into its constituents hydrogen and oxygen, the main constituents of rocket fuel.
The CLPS program is only part of NASA's comprehensive moon exploration plan, which gives preference to an open architecture that promotes collaboration with many commercial and international partners. (NASA would like to be the first, but not the sole, customer of the commercial lander.)
One of the most critical elements of this plan is a small space station named Gateway which is named by NASA to begin construction of the lunar orbit in 2022. Gateway will be a hub for many types of moon exploration, including landings of crew members and unmanned land to the surface.
If everything goes according to plan, NASA astronauts will make such an outbreak for the first time in 2028 – 56 years after Apollo 17 crewmembers left the last boot marks on the lunar surface.
To pursue a repeat of Apollo's flag and footprint strategy, agency chief Jim Bridenstine said at today's roundtable.
"This time, when we go to the moon, we will actually stay," said Bridenstine.
It is also important to "include as many capabilities as possible in the system that can be replicated on Mars for a possible mission [crewed]."
Mike Walls book on the search for extraterrestrial life " Out There " (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate ) is now out. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .