"Foust Forward" appears in every issue of SpaceNews. This column is in issue on December 3, 2018.
When NASA announced its program for commercial lunar loads at the beginning of this year, at the beginning there were some questions about how to pronounce the acronym CLPS. Soon there was a consensus in the imaginary "I" in the middle, so it sounded like "clips".
Perhaps, however, it was necessary to say "claps". There must have been a lot of applause at NASA's headquarters on November 29 when NASA announced nine companies that they chose to participate in CLPS. Drought when representatives of companies were represented on the stage. Copy for the promotional video that triggered the event. The head of NASA's astronaut Stan Love, who bumped over the floor of the Johnson Space Center video link to simulate the sixth gravity of the moon. He even stopped for Mars's InSight, which landed on the planet three days earlier. ("We're still on Mars high," warns Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's administrative assistant for science.)
The result was a spectacle that was an unusual way to develop a new commercial initiative. Local FIRST Robotics students got more time during the event than the contracted companies, and there are more options to ask NASA leadership questions from journalists in the room or on the phone. "Personally, happy day, but what a strange event," said one representative of one of the winning companies.
Competing children have overshadowed the fact that, for now, the CLPS awards are a bit negligible. Although the agency says contracts totaling $ 2.6 billion over 10 years, it is the maximum value for those unspecified deliveries, unlimited amounts of rewards. For now, each company only receives the amount of token to create user guides for the user, without the guarantee that they will get more.
Businesses will now have to compete against each other – and potentially additional companies in the future – to fly the task of using individual payloads, which NASA is still in the process of identifying. Companies also have to raise money and build their landers: they have largely offered conceptual art and models, and designs are still no further than the critical level of maturity design examination.
But even though the announcement had a lot of content, the program is still important to NASA and the industry. Some companies have noted after the event that their rewards will help raise money from the investor by proving that they have a real and potentially lucrative client for their vehicle. The absence of such customers during the unfinished competition of the Google Lunar X award has made it difficult for many companies to fund their landers and try to win the prize.
NASA sees CLPS as a way of achieving low-cost science on the moon, including the identification of work tools that could support future human research. More importantly, however, it recognizes that CLPS is a risky venture, as many companies are likely to suffer from technical or financial failures. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine compares the class of CLPS with the venture capitalist portfolio: only a few of them needed to make the overall program succeed.
And if that is the case, CLPS could go a long way towards achieving this "sustainable" return to the moon that has been NASA's mantra since the Spatial Policy Directive 1 was signed almost a year ago. Even many other aspects of NASA lunar plans remain uncertain or, in the case of Gateway, subject to criticism, helping to establish commercial resources for going to the moon – that could extend over time to support larger and more complex bearings – could Go a long way towards the end of the last decade stop-and-go efforts to return to the Moon's surface.
If CLPS does, it will surely be worth the whole applause.