Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond are the first three private companies that has been selected by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration to deliver stuff like science and technology payloads, as part of its Artemis program under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).
Each lander will carry NASA-provided payloads to conduct science investigations and demonstrate technologies on the lunar surface, said by the administration in an announcement yesterday, to pave the way for NASA astronauts lunar return in 2024. NASA will dole out up to $253 million, in all, to the three companies in the contract for their respective missions. Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator said:
Our selection of these U.S. commercial landing service providers represents America’s return to the Moon’s surface for the first time in decades, and it’s a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans,Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years. Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”
To predict the lander positions; measure lunar radiation; assess lander impact on the Moon; and assist with navigation, each company proposed flying specific instruments including gear as part of the submissions. In 2007, given that Astrobotic was initially spun out of Carnegie Mellon University to compete for the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP), it’s not only a win for NASA, and the companies, but another feather in the cap for XPRIZE.
The Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic was awarded $79.5 million to fly up to 14 payloads to a large crater on the near side of the moon, Lacus Mortis, by July 2021, , which is backed by the Space Angels Network. For the flying of five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a dark spot on the moon in the same time frame, Intuitive Machines, out of Houston, received $77 million. On the other hand, Edison, N.J.-based Orbit Beyond, is flying four payloads by September 2020, to the lunar lavea plain of Mare Imbrium, in one of the Moon’s many craters.
Associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said in a statement:
These landers are just the beginning of exciting commercial partnerships that will bring us closer to solving the many scientific mysteries of our Moon, our solar system, and beyond,“What we learn will not only change our view of the universe, but also prepare our human missions to the Moon and eventually Mars.”
End-to-end commercial payload delivery services will be provided by the NASA including payload integration and operations, and launch and landing. CLPS program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Chris Culbert, in a statement f rom Houstonsaid:
This announcement starts a significant step in NASA’s collaboration with our commercial partners,” “NASA is committed to working with industry to enable the next round of lunar exploration. The companies we have selected represent a diverse community of exciting small American companies, each with their own unique, innovative approach to getting to the Moon. We look forward to working with them to have our payloads delivered and opening the door for returning humans to the Moon.”
These first steps by NASA pave the way for not only the Administration’s lunar efforts, but also NASA’s eventual intentions to spacecraft and astronauts on Mars.