Private Companies Leading NASA’s Next Moon Missions
NASA is working with nine private companies to return to the moon. One Cape Canaveral-based company is competing for a chunk of the more than $2 billion up for grabs.
Over the next ten years, NASA will ask the companies to compete for different tasks – like sending science experiments and robotic landers to the lunar surface.
Unlike earlier programs, NASA will only pay for the services, not the hardware. The private companies will be responsible for building the landers and finding a rocket provider to launch the spacecraft.
Cape Canaveral’s Moon Express is one of the companies eligible to bid on the contracts that make up the $2.6 billion program. The company is working on a handful of robotic landers to explore the moon, and plans to offer those services in 2020.
Moon Express announced partnerships with private companies Sierra Nevada Corporation, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Odyssey Space Research and NanoRacks to compete for the contracts.
“We are excited to partner with these amazing companies at the dawn of a new era of lunar and solar system exploration,” said Moon Express founder & CEO, Bob Richards.
“These are not expensive missions,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is like a venture capital kind of effort where at the end of the day, the risk is high but the return is also very high for a low investment.”
The program, called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), is a part of President Trump’s space policy goals to explore the moon and return humans to the lunar surface ahead of human exploration of Mars.
“Our goal is to learn as much as we can possibly learn and help this fledgling industry develop here in the United States,” said Bridenstine.
The first of these commercial moon missions could happen as early as next year. “We’re going at high speed,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate, which will lead the effort.
The nine companies are:
Astrobiotic Technology Inc., Pittsburgh
Deep Space Systems, Littleton, Colorado
Draper, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Firefly Aerospace Inc., Cedar Park, Texas
Intuitive Machines, Houston
Lockheed Martin, Littleton
Masten Space Systems Inc., Mojave, California
Moon Express, Cape Canaveral
Orbit Beyond, Edison, New Jersey