NASA is returning to the moon. President Trump signed a directive last year that ordered the agency to make plans for a lunar return, and today the agency took another step on this trip by announcing a series of business partnerships times to get loads paid from the ground and related to the moon.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the nine companies that will be the first to participate in the new Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
The program is part of the agency's effort to collaborate with commercial aerospace companies. The space agency will hire one of these nine companies to build the spacecraft that will bring the agency's equipment and experiments to the moon. CLPS contracts have a combined maximum value of $ 2.6 billion over the next 10 years, so companies are eager to win them.
The private companies will work to build a small robotic spaceship capable of carrying at least 22 pounds (10 kg) of scientific instruments and equipment on the lunar surface. It is not yet clear what will be the criteria that NASA will use to evaluate the craftsmanship and to award the contracts. The nine companies announced are: Astrobot Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.
Remarkably absent from the list are SpaceX and Boeing, although NASA recently ordered a security review of the two companies, both of which are working to launch manned missions.
A lunar future
The announcement is part of NASA's broader goal of returning to the moon, and Bridenstine is excited about our lunar future.
"We are trying to develop very quickly an American capacity to provide small payloads on the lunar surface and then grow from there," said Bridenstine during the announcement. "We also want to get there fast, so when the human class landers are there, they have the opportunity to maximize every moment they have," he added.
Including partners in their lunar plans will allow NASA to launch more frequent and cheaper trips to the moon, which means they will be able to land more frequent experiments, Bridenstine said. We also hope that they will be able to explore other lunar surfaces through these partnerships, added Bridenstine.
Unwrapped lunar missions could start launching in the next year, with the goal of sending two payloads to the lunar surface each year for the next 10 years. It is not yet known what tools or experiments can fly on the first CLPS missions.
"Today's announcement marks tangible progress in America's return to the lunar surface to stay in. The innovation of American aerospace companies, espoused with our great goals in science and human exploration , will help us get extraordinary things on the Moon and feed Mars, "said Bridenstine.