Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Nine U.S. firms have been selected by NASA to compete for the right to ferry scientific instruments and tech demo payloads to the Moon aboard commercial robotic landers.
This $2.6 billion contract entered into with these companies is the first step in NASA’s aim to expand private investment in deep space exploration. It’s part of the “Commercial Lunar Payload Services,” or CLPS (pronounced “clips”) program. One of CLPS’ goals is to return Americans to the lunar surface after more than six decades.
The nine companies are:
* Aerospace Inc. (Cedar Park, Texas);
* Astrobotic Technology Inc. (Pittsburgh);
* Deep Space Systems (Littleton, Colorado);
* Draper (Cambridge, Massachusetts);
* Intuitive Machines LLC (Houston);
* Lockheed Martin Space (Littleton, Colorado);
* Masten Space Systems Inc. (Mojave, California);
* Moon Express (Cape Canaveral, Florida) and
* Orbit Beyond (Edison, New Jersey).
These companies will own and operate the robotic landers that get to the Moon, For its part, NASA will buy capacity on the spacecraft for its research equipment. They will be able to bid on NASA task orders to haul specific instruments and payloads to the lunar surface.
Working with the private sector represents a fundamental change in NASA’s traditional way of developing missions to the Moon and other solar system destinations. The existing method has the government fund, own and oversee every aspect of a lunar project.
“We’re doing something that’s never been done before,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. He said when the U.S. returns to the Moon again, it wants to be one customer of many customers in a robust marketplace between the Earth and the Moon. He said NASA wants multiple providers that compete on cost and innovation.
Bridenstine said CLPS is one way NASA seeks to jump-start a stagnant U.S. lunar exploration program that’s seen starts and stops under past presidential administrations over the past few decades. The Trump administration instructed NASA to re-emphasize the return of astronauts to the Moon. On the other hand, the Obama administration made getting to Mars as NASA’s goal.
Bridenstine said the inclusion of commercial companies will make the current lunar exploration effort “more resilient” than those of the past.
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