01 December, 2018
NASA on Thursday named nine USA 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.
"Today's announcement marks tangible progress in America's return to the Moon's surface to stay", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Instead of running a government-funded space program, like Apollo, the United States space agency will buy services, essentially becoming a customer to private businesses that build their own spacecraft.
Lockheed Martin, which built the InSight lander that successfully touched down on Mars Monday, said it plans to build a robotic moon lander based on a similar design that could carry a variety of payloads.
The CLPS programme, which is operated by Nasa's science mission directorate, is meant to buy end-to-end payload services between Earth and the lunar surface using fixed priced contracts.
"We're trying to very quickly develop an American capability to deliver small payloads to the surface of the moon and then grow from there", Bridenstine said during the announcement. Under this architecture, NASA would become one "among many" customers. The Google Lunar X Prize, started in 2007, announced a $20 million award for the first privately funded spacecraft to land on the moon.
'We're developing technology for when its time to begin to learn to walk on the moon again, ' he said.
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Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the science directorate, said there were already many experiments that scientists know they want to send to the moon.
Remarks made on Thursday, Nov. 29 reinforced NASA's assertion it was returning to the Moon.
In response, NASA submitted a plan to Congress: the National Space Exploration Campaign, which "calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos", the agency said.
The exploration of the Moon will follow next, with the ultimate goal, a trip to Mars and back, to end the current stage of human expansion to space.
Zurbuchen said the firms will compete to complete tasks NASA sets, but will be free to work out how they get there.
Astrobiotic Technology Inc. of Pittsburgh; Deep Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado; Draper of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Firefly Aerospace Inc. of Cedar Park, Texas; Intuitive Machines of Houston; Lockheed Martin of Littleton; Masten Space Systems Inc. of Mojave, California; Moon Express of Cape Canaveral, Florida and Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey.
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