New NASA's experimental lunar science will arrive on the Moon through a spacecraft built by one of nine private companies – the first one for one of the agency's scientific missions.
In a statement Thursday, the space agency has named organizations that can now submit an offer to deliver scientific and technological bearing capacity to the Moon surface.
They include some long-time players in the aviation industry, such as Lockheed Martin, but are mostly new names with initial cultures, such as California's Mojave in Astrobotics and Masten Space System in Pittsburgh.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services program is a priority for NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, who in May said exploiting commercial opportunities will allow more frequent and affordable access to the Moon's surface.
"More Mission, More Science" promised a press release about the CLPS program.
It also continues the NASA trend towards public-private partnerships for research. Under President George W. Bush, companies have been contracted to fly to the International Space Station.
The program of commercial crews, developed under President Barack Obama, will be paid by the companies for the transportation of human crews.
CLPS missions would be the first such partnership in the deep space agency. The first one could fly next year, and NASA hopes to send two loads each year for the next 10 years each year.
It is not yet clear what kind of NASA instruments hope to send, even though the first call for proposals will come out in the coming weeks or months.
Most of the companies involved have never flown the spacecraft of this complexity and scale, and Bridenstine has admitted that some of the CLPS missions are unlikely to achieve a "soft" landing on the Moon surface.
"This is the effort of entrepreneurial capital," he told reporters on Thursday. "At the end of the day the risk is high, but the return is also very high for a low investment."
"It's a great experiment," said senior science administrator Thomas Zurbuchen.
Relatively small and cheap cargoes delivered through the CLPS program would be followed by more traditional middle and high class missions, Bridenstine said, including an eventual mission on the moon.
President Trump is called to send US astronauts to the Moon as the goal of his administration. Its Spatial Policy Directive 1, signed in December last year, directs NASA to co-operate with the private sector in returning to the Moon on the road to a long-term mission to Mars.
But no US spacecraft has touched the Moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and it's 50 years since NASA sent a robotic mission to the Moon's surface.
Earlier this year, NASA shocked scientists by canceling the Resource Prospector mission, the only US lunar rover that is currently under development.
However, the only natural Earth satellite explores other nations; China's Chang 4 and 5 missions, which will deliver the rover to the moon and restore rock samples from the surface, is scheduled to launch next year.
India and Israel are also planning to launch lunar landing next year.
Local Geologist Notre Dame Clive Neal, president of the Independent Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, is cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of science within the CLPS program.
Many Moon researchers have been disappointed by resigning the Resource Prospector mission – "I'm still," Neal said.
But he had the opportunity to make the partnership with the aviation industry make the Moon easier.
Zurbuchen said on Thursday that the Mobile Lunar Laboratory remained one of NASA's Moon Research Objectives, though such a mission probably developed through a more traditional process.
He also said that NASA hopes to be just one of several clients who provide useful burdens for these commercial missions. Connecting to the Moon – perhaps with academics or another company – should reduce costs, he said.
CLPS's announcement comes when NASA conducts security reviews of two major private partners, SpaceX and Boeing.
Both companies agreed to fly to the astronauts at the International Space Station, but they suffered from delays and delays as their work on the development of spacecraft.
SpaceX, in particular, drew attention after founder Elon Musk took hit marijuana and drank whiskey on the podcast. No company is among the CLPS eligibility choices.
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