NASA selects nine USA companies to vie for moon program funding

30 November, 2018, 12:39 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • US-SPACE-NASA-MARS

That will depend on the success of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

The list included several relatively new companies, like Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic and California-based Masten Space Systems, as well as longtime government contractors like Lockheed Martin and Draper.

That's the word from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, whose agency is working with SpaceX and Boeing to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. Now Draper is in a new, homegrown space race to deliver unmanned craft to the lunar surface.

The Trump administration also directed NASA to seek and encourage additional private sector participation.

Lockheed Martin, by far the largest company selected for CLPS, said it will develop what it called the McCandless Lunar Lander, named after the late astronaut Bruce McCandless.

The Commercial Crew Program, developed under President Barack Obama, will pay companies to transport human crews. "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.

It's not yet clear what kind of instruments NASA hopes to send, though the first call for proposals should come out in the coming weeks or months.

The approach will allow NASA to cut costs, Bridenstine said.

"This is a venture capital kind of effort", he told reporters Thursday.

NASA officials said the research will help get astronauts back to the moon more quickly and keep them safer once they're there.

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The relatively small and affordable 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. "We went with a really broad set of criteria", he said, adding that those criteria "ask questions about the overall liability of the companies, their likelihood to be able to deliver these services, but we did not go in very deep depth relative to the technical capability".

NASA has selected the first batch of US companies to join the agency on its journey to its next destination, the moon, which NASA wants to explore in order to prepare to go on to Mars.

Earlier this year, NASA shocked scientists by canceling the Resource Prospector mission, the only American lunar rover now in development.

He noted that the only mission that may have been completed in this short time frame is Explorer One, the mission following Russia's launch of Sputnik.

Near the other end of the corporate spectrum is Orbit Beyond, a small company with plans to develop a series of lunar landers.

Notre Dame lunar geologist Clive Neal, who is emeritus chairman of the independent Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, was cautiously optimistic about the prospects for science under the CLPS program.

America's next moon landing will be made by private companies - not NASA. NASA is now working with commercial partners to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

SpaceX in particular has drawn scrutiny after founder Elon Musk took a hit of marijuana and drank whiskey on a podcast.

NASA is providing no development money for any of the CLPS companies, who will have to raise the funding needed for their landers from other sources.

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