As part of carrying out the private sector integration requirements of White House Space Policy Directive 1, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced today at 2 pm EST the nine companies the agency has selected to compete for $2.6 billion in contracts to support its Moon to Mars mission. NASA intends the partnerships to enable regular shipments of instruments, experiments, and small payloads to the moon sooner and faster, cover more lunar regions, and maximize efficiency when humans eventually arrive.
Private companies - instead of NASA - will lead the race back to the moon, with launch target dates set for 2019 - the 50 anniversary of the first manned moon landing.
Lockheed Martin was responsible for the InSight lander, which landed on Mars earlier this week. These contracts will be geared to filling the needs of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program over the next ten years of its development.
"We are excited to partner with these unbelievable companies at the dawn of a new era of lunar and solar system exploration", stated Moon Express founder & CEO, Bob Richards.
"What they bring to their consortium is tried and tested navigation systems", said Chad Anderson, chief executive of Space Angels, a NY investment firm that finances space-oriented startups.
Zurbuchen said Thursday that a mobile lunar laboratory remains one of NASA's goals for Moon exploration, though such a mission would likely be developed through a more traditional process.
NASA planned a new mission to the moon
Using commercial services, NASA will be able to "accelerate a robotic return to the moon, with upcoming missions targeted for two to three years earlier than previously planned". The absence of such customers during the now-defunct Google Lunar X Prize competition made it hard for many companies to fund their landers and thus attempt to win the prize.
The nine companies now eligible to bid on CLPS are: Astrobotic Technology Inc., Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace Inc., Intuitive Machines LLC., Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems Inc., Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.
The exploration of the Moon will follow next, with the ultimate goal, a trip to Mars and back, to end the current stage of human expansion to space. SpaceX and Northrup Grumman are building and launching cargo ships to the International Space Station under commercial contracts that allow NASA to essentially purchase a given launch service rather than designing, developing and operating the vehicles in house.
Bridenstine said NASA wants the companies to succeed, but "is certain some of the efforts will fail", AP reported.
Going to the moon isn't new for Draper.
One of the key elements for NASA's future missions to Mars will be to use the moon as the gateway.
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