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NASA works with SpaceX, Blue Origin and others to send large payloads to the Moon



In its constant quest to send cargo and ultimately people to the lunar surface, NASA announced five new partnerships with commercial space companies that have developed robotic landers that can carry large payloads to the moon. New additions include a number of well-known industry heavyweights such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada Corporation, who have previously worked with NASA on other projects.

The new additions will join an already formed pool of nine companies that are part of NASA's recent CLPS program, which stands for Commercial Lunar Payload Services. The goal is to have several different ways of transporting scientific instruments and goods to the moon, as NASA tries to send people back to the lunar surface by 2024.

Being opting to be part of the CLPS program does not guarantee every company a NASA contract to send their spaceship to the moon. This simply means that NASA will consider deploying these companies if they want to send cargo or scientific instruments to the lunar surface. NASA will call for the skills the agency wants, and companies will seek to have the ability to deliver NASA cargo to the moon. In May, NASA selected three companies from its original pool of participants ̵

1; Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and Orbit Beyond – to send robot landers to the moon in the early 2020s, with each ship carrying a variety of payloads. Only two of these companies are currently pursuing this goal, as Orbit Beyond stated that it could not meet the deadline by the end of 2020.


An artistic depiction of the Sierra Nevada Corporation lander
Image: SNC

SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Ceres Robotics and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc. are added today. The original nine companies needed to be able to carry up to 10 kg (22 lbs) to the lunar surface. However, some of these new suppliers claim that they could possibly carry several tons to the moon. "We have a need and felt the need to attract some additional suppliers with improved landing capabilities," said Steve Clarke, Deputy Exploration Administrator at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, during a press conference announcing the new CLPS participants , "This is based on our goals – the Agency's goals – to get to the Moon as fast as possible, both from the scientific point of view and from the point of view of human exploration."

Thanks to a challenge from Vice President Mike Pence, NASA is trying to send people back to the Moon within the next four years. As the agency prepares for this challenge, NASA wants to send technology to the moon to further investigate the lunar environment and demonstrate technologies that could be used for future human missions. In addition, NASA wants to send a new rover named VIPER to the Moon, which will travel to the Moon South Pole and look for potential water ice that may lurk there. Engineers are interested in using this water ice as a resource for future human missions.

For Blue Origin, the company offers its very public Blue Moon Lander design, which was first unveiled by founder Jeff Bezos in May. Meanwhile, SpaceX is launching its future starship Starship, which the company has built at its test sites in Boca Chica, Texas, and Cape Canaveral, Florida. Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, claims that Starship, which is supposed to lift off the moon after landing, can bring up to 100 tons to the lunar surface.


An artistic depiction of the Blue Moon lander by Blue Origin on the surface of the moon
Image: Blue Origin

Some of the companies are quite ambitious with their schedules, claiming they could turn their spaceship into a moon in the next few years Send. Ceres Robotics plans to land by 2023, while SNC announces completion by 2022. SpaceX, which proposes the largest lander of all five companies, plans to land a cargo version of Starship on the Moon by 2022. "Starship, the early missions where we focus on cargo – both satellite delivery to orbit and scientific delivery to the lunar surface," said Shotwell during today's press conference. After that, the company will focus on bringing the people on board Starship.

None of these five companies have built or launched their vehicles, so it's likely that their schedules will be delayed, and it's still unclear what rockets these will take vehicles into space. SpaceX is expected to launch its spacecraft with its own future rocket, the Super Heavy, while the Blue Origin lander will fly with the company's upcoming New Glenn rocket. The details for the other cargo space ship are not yet finalized and it is not yet known how NASA intends to use these companies in the years to come.

In the meantime, NASA is still looking for the lander that will bring people to the surface of the moon. The Agency has recently published a call for proposals, to be finalized by 1 November. A decision on this crucial technology should fall in the coming months.


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