NASA is returning to the moon, but this time it is flying private.
The space agency announced that it had selected nine US companies to develop technologies for lunar deliveries launched from Earth. The companies will bid on contracts to deliver science and technology payloads to enable humans to travel back to the moon, and eventually on to Mars.
“We're returning to the Moon, preparing to go beyond to Mars. We are going. We are NASA,” the agency posted to Twitter.
One of the key elements for NASA’s future missions to Mars will be to use the moon as the gateway.
“It will reduce risk. It will reduce cost,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a recent interview with Politico, “because anything you can do that ultimately can be tested around the moon is going to lower our cost to go to Mars.
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of when US astronaut Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. However, only 12 astronauts have ever stepped foot on the lunar surface.
The nine US companies will compete for a percentage of Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts of nearly $2.6 billion (€2.2 billion) over the next 10 years.
The privatised contracts will act as a substitute for NASA needing to build those capacities itself.
“Today’s announcement marks tangible progress in America’s return to the Moon’s surface to stay,” announced Bridenstine during a public event held Thursday.
“The innovation of America’s aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars.”
NASA expects these lunar payloads could lift off as early as 2019.
Which companies did NASA select?
- Astrobotic Technology, Inc.: Pittsburgh
- Deep Space Systems: Littleton, Colorado
- Draper: Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Firefly Aerospace, Inc.: Cedar Park, Texas
- Intuitive Machines, LLC: Houston
- Lockheed Martin Space: Littleton, Colorado
- Masten Space Systems, Inc.: Mojave, California
- Moon Express: Cape Canaveral, Florida
- Orbit Beyond: Edison, New Jersey