Lockheed, Draper among NASA partners for new lunar payload services

Kerry GarnerDec 01, 2018

"On the Gateway, America and its partners will prepare to transit deep space, testing new technologies and systems as we build the infrastructure to support missions to the surface of the Moon and prepare for the epochal mission to Mars", the agency said.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine hosted a press conference today to reveal the next phase of the agency's lunar ambitions.

For the new NASA program, called Commercial Lunar Payload Services, the moon landers would be far too small to carry people, but they could ferry scientific experiments to the lunar surface. "It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use".

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

According to NASA, nine firms are now eligible to compete for NASA contracts for delivery services to the lunar surface over the next decade.

Lockheed, Draper among NASA partners for new lunar payload services
NASA planned a new mission to the moon

"They haven't done spacecraft so this is a bit of a new departure for them", McDowell said.

Within the partnerships, NASA will be one of many customers who will use lunar services such as rocket rides, Bridenstine said. It is still unknown what instruments or experiments will fly on the first CLPS missions. The absence of such customers during the now-defunct Google Lunar X Prize competition made it hard for many companies to fund their landers and thus attempt to win the prize. The company is also developing advanced space robotics capabilities such as terrain relative navigation, mobile robotics for lunar surface operations, and reliable computing systems for mission-critical applications. The agency now partners with the private sector for other missions, including human transport to the International Space Station (ISS) wherein SpaceX and Boeing are developing capsules for that goal, and the Directive expands that to include deep space missions. "This is like a venture capital kind of effort where at the end of the day, the risk is high but the return is also very high for a low investment".

NASA released a draft request for proposals April 27 that called for US companies to "introduce new technologies to deliver payloads to the Moon", NASA said when announcing the initial request for proposals.

The US President signed the Space Policy Directive in December a year ago, officially announcing a return to the lunar surface as the near-term goal of NASA's human space programme.

NASA's contracts with SpaceX and Boeing, both issued in 2013, require the contractors to "maintain a program for achieving a drug-and alcohol-free workforce".

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