NASA opens $2.6 billion in contract services for Moon to Mars missions

NASA's In Sight Spacecraft Safely on Mars Snaps Some

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine hosted a press conference today to reveal the next phase of the agency's lunar ambitions. "The innovation of America's aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve incredible things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars". (The agency has said that it intends for the first flight to occur next year.) "Services they provide NASA will cover payload integration and operations, launch and landing on the Moon".

The relatively small and low-cost payloads delivered via the CLPS program would be followed by more traditional medium- and large-class missions, Bridenstine said, including an eventual crewed mission to the Moon.

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. The initial deliveries likely will include radiation monitors, as well as laser reflectors for gravity and other types of measurements, according to Zurbuchen. Maintaining a permanent human presence in lunar orbit will require a lot of support services that NASA can't handle on its own.

The announcement comes just three days after NASA landed its InSight spacecraft on Mars. The company has previously worked with NASA to develop Moon commercial cargo transporation capabilities and was the first private company authorized by the USA government to land on the Moon.

During a public event held today (Nov. 29), the agency unveiled nine new partners that will be designing and building lunar landers aimed at facilitating scientific exploration of the moon.

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts announced Thursday have a combined maximum value of $2.6 billion over the next 10 years.

NASA plans to have astronauts orbiting the moon again by 2023, with a landing a few years later. Although not tied to the aerospace giant's human-rated spacecraft, the company noted its experience with developing vehicles similar to this new lander.

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. NASA needs to work closely with private enterprise to make the moon missions financially possible. The company previously competed and succeeded through two funding levels in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge X Prize in 2009. The picture of McCandless floating by himself in the blackness of space, with the blue Earth in the background, is one of NASA's most iconic.

The company now subcontracts with other major contractors in the field of space exploration such as Lockheed Martin and NASA.

"These are not expensive missions", Bridenstine told reporters before the announcement in Washington. "At the end of the day the risk is high, but the return is also very high for a low investment".

He added: "Our goal is to learn as much as we can possibly learn and help this fledgling industry develop here in the United States".

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