Yesterday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced who would take part in their Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS. According to the organization, first deliveries could begin as early as 2019.
Eventually, NASA would like to transport heavy payloads that might weigh up to several tons. All for the purpose of establishing permanent settlements on the moon and eventually Mars. As the old saying goes – every journey begin with a single step, and so the organization will test their newly established commercial partnership using a much smaller payload to start with – at least 22 pounds.
NASA has put aside $2.6 billion for delivery contracts over the next 10 years. They have chosen 9 commercial aerospace corporations to fulfill objectives. These include:
- Astrobotic Technology, Pittsburgh, a former X Prize competitor that’s developing a lunar lander and rover. Astrobotic’s commercial partners include DHL, Airbus DS, Dynetics and United Launch Alliance.
- Deep Space Systems, Littleton, Colo., a subcontractor on NASA’s deep-space Orion crew spaceship and other spacecraft.
- Draper, Cambridge, Mass., a longtime space contractor that is partnering with General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems, Japan’s ispace venture and Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries. Draper is developing a robotic lander called Artemis-7.
- Firefly Aerospace, Cedar Park, Texas, a satellite launch startup that’s developing a spectrum of rockets.
- Intuitive Machines, Houston, an engineering consulting firm that has designed a lunar lander called Nova-C. Intuitive Machines has also partnered with Deep Space Systems and Firefly, and it’s been involved in a legal dispute with Moon Express.
- Lockheed Martin Space, Littleton, one of the biggest companies in aerospace and prime contractor for Orion as well as NASA’s Mars InSight lander. Lockheed Martin is offering its McCandless lunar lander, named after the late NASA astronaut (and Lockheed Martin executive) Bruce McCandless.
- Masten Space Systems, Mojave, Calif., which has been working on lunar lander technology for more than a decade.
- Moon Express, Cape Canaveral, Fla., an X Prize competitor that’s partnering with Sierra Nevada Corp., Paragon Space Development Corp., Odyssey Space Research and NanoRacks. Moon Express’ executive chairman is Seattle-area entrepreneur Naveen Jain.
- Orbit Beyond, Edison, N.J., a startup that’s targeting Earth-to-moon operations in partnership with TeamIndus, an X Prize competitor based in India; as well as with Advanced Space, Honeybee Robotics, Ceres Robotics and Apollo Fusion.
Some of the first cargo will likely comprise of scientific instrumentation for conducting experiments on the moon. Beyond that Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate said that later payloads will most certainly focus on furthering our reach, such as those that deal with radiation exposure.
“We’re essentially buying a ride to the surface of the moon,” NASA told GeekWire. “That means from launch to a safe landing so that we can operate our instruments. We have not provided development funds.”
Cover photo: Astrobiotics Polaris Rover