NASA To Announce First Commercial 'Moon Partnerships'

Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu

Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu

NASA on Thursday named nine US companies, including Lockheed Martin Corp, that will compete for funding under the space agency's renewed long-term moon program, a private-public undertaking to develop technology that will explore the lunar surface. The goal is to collect valuable scientific data as well as to encourage private-sector development beyond low-Earth orbit. "We want to be first customers, not only customers", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's head of the science mission directorate, said during the event.

"More missions, more science", a news release about the CLPS program promised.

Bridenstine said the first lunar payloads could be launched as early as next year, but there were few details.

"Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations".

Lockheed Martin: An industry giant with a long, established history of involvement with NASA and human spaceflight.

The White House Space Policy Directive 1, signed December 11, 2017, revised U.S. national space policy to integrate NASA's programs with private sector partners to return to the Moon before continuing on to human exploration of Mars.

The statement added NASA will periodically "re-examine" the commercial marketplace for "new and emerging lunar delivery capabilities, and may offer additional companies an opportunity to join Commercial Lunar Payload Services through a contract process called on-ramping".

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The nine companies NASA hopes to use as lunar couriers are Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.

The vehicle had been in development for about a decade to explore a polar region of the Moon.

The announcement comes just three days after NASA landed a spacecraft on Mars.

Likewise, Boeing and SpaceX are readying new commercial crew ships to carry astronaut to and from the space station starting next year.

Astrobotic's Peregrine Lunar Lander is created to deliver up to a 35-kilogram payload to the lunar surface. "Working with US companies is the next step to achieving long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and Mars", NASA said in a statement. But the newly announced contracts for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program came with a ceremony and extra fanfare given the newly energized push to return to the moon with help from private companies under the Trump administration.

The company will provide any number of contributions towards NASA's mission to the Moon.

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