NASA has picked nine companies, ranging from startups to aerospace giants, to be eligible for future contracts to deliver payloads to the surface of the moon, but with no guarantee of business for any of them.
NASA plans to award about $2.6 billion over the course of 10 years that the companies can compete for.
The company now subcontracts with other major contractors in the field of space exploration such as Lockheed Martin and NASA.
The nine companies, representing seven states, 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; and Orbit Beyond, Edison, New Jersey. The space program has also reportedly floated the idea of selling tourists tickets to space.
"Today, we got the news that NASA selected Lockheed Martin as one of nine companies to build lunar landers", said Josh Hopkins, a Senior Staff Engineer at Lockheed Martin. "The innovation of America's aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve fantastic things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars", Bridenstine said.
Earlier this year, NASA cancelled its only robotic vehicle under development to explore the surface of the Moon, known as the Resource Prospector (RP) mission.
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SpaceIL, an Israeli company and former X Prize contestant, says it will send a robotic lander to the moon's surface with SpaceX's help early next year.
Both companies have been contracted to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, but have suffered setbacks and delays as their work to develop their spacecraft.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services program is a priority of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who said in May that leveraging commercial capabilities would allow for more frequent and affordable access to the lunar surface. "We've had a number of conversations", he said adding, "I will tell you, he is as committed to safety as anybody, and he understands that that was not appropriate behavior, and you won't be seeing that again".
One of the key elements for NASA's future missions to Mars will be to use the moon as the gateway.
NASA unveiled a set of new "Moon partnerships" with nine US companies at a press conference Thursday afternoon. NASA had "never done anything that fast" before, Zurbuchen said. President Trump signed a directive a year ago which ordered the agency to make plans for a lunar return, and today the agency took another step on that journey by announcing a slew of commercial partnerships aimed at getting payloads off the ground and moon-bound.
The Trump administration has cited Moon missions a key element of the 2019 NASA budget.