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NASA makes a noticeable step back towards the moon with a commercial program



  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (left) and Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen (right) are shown to representatives of the nine US companies that can provide NASA delivery services to the lunar surface.
Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (left) and Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen (right) are shown along with representatives of the nine US companies that are eligible for NASA delivery services to offer the lunar surface.

NASA announced on Thursday that this was the case, partnering with nine companies to enable the delivery of small scientific payloads to the lunar surface. No money was exchanged in advance, but the space agency said they could now "place orders" to deliver selected experiments to the moon.

The space agency made the announcement of the moon with considerable fanfare and devoted itself to an hour. Long ceremony with questions from children, an astronaut in Houston bouncing on a tightrope to simulate the moon's gravity, and other activities.

Under the pomp and circumstances, however, two factors emerged. One of them is that the science branch of NASA, the Science Mission Directorate, is more involved in funding lunar landscape science experiments under this program. "The moon is full of secrets that we do not know yet," said Thomas Zurbuchen, who directs NASA's science activities on Thursday. Second, the government takes a concrete step towards funding commercial activities on the moon.

The Companies

The nine companies that have been granted the right to enter into Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts are:

  • Astrobotic Technology Inc .: Pittsburgh
  • Deep Space Systems: Littleton, Colorado
  • Draper: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Firefly Aerospace Inc .: Cedar Park, Texas
  • Intuitive Machines LLC: Houston
  • Lockheed Martin Space: Littleton, Colorado
  • Masten Space Systems Inc .: Mojave, California
  • Moon Express: Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Orbit Beyond: Edison, New Jersey

Most of them are not surprising, as companies like Astrobotic are no surprise, Masten Space Systems and Moon Express have been working for some time now. to deliver small payloads to the moon. A relative surprise was "Orbit Beyond," but it turned out to be a consortium of predominantly known entities also involved in providing Moon – TeamIndus, Advanced Space, Honeybee Robotics, Ceres Robotics Inc. and Apollo Fusion.

NASA said delivery of payloads could start as early as 2019. There are no time or quantity limits for these contracts. The total contract value will be $ 2.6 billion over the next 10 years. The agency said it would take into account a number of factors such as "technical feasibility, price and schedule" when comparing offers.

What This Means

Under President Trump, NASA has attempted to reorient its exploration efforts First, go to the Moon and test technology there for possible human missions to Mars. The Space Agency is also keen to determine what resources on the Moon may enable their long-term colonization, provide rare metals needed on Earth, or possibly rocket fuel for missions elsewhere in the solar system agency needs more data on the potential of this Resources, especially water. Earlier this year, NASA had canceled a mission, Resource Prospector, which would have gone into the permanent shadowed crater near the lunar poles to determine the amount and availability of water ice there. The agency has positioned these new commercial missions as the first step in this type of prospecting research.

"This is a positive step forward," said Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at Notre Dame, opposite Ars. However, he said none of these early missions expected the kind of roving technology required for mobility to be map resource-rich areas on the lunar surface. Neal said NASA officials said the new commercial payload program will eventually enter the phase of exploration for raw materials.

Economic Implications

The commercial companies involved in Thursday's announcement were understandably enthusiastic about the new program. The promise of a guaranteed customer to the missions is likely to help some of these companies close their business and raise additional funds.

"This is the critical path for any commercial company that wants to offer commercial lunar services," said Bob Richards. The founder of Moon Express, Ars said, "The required capitalization threshold and the emerging market for commercial moon customers are otherwise unattainable for most companies, certainly for most startups, so NASA is providing a critical primer for the pump to get things moving put."

This is important moment for some of these companies. Although there was a strong field of newcomers to the Google Lunar XPRIZE, nobody managed to win the competition for a soft landing on the moon. Now the price is a NASA contract. And it's almost time for commercial lunar companies to deliver.


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