NASA has selected Astrobotic Technology, Intuitive Machines and ORBIT Beyond as the first commercial lunar payload services contract recipients.
The three companies will deliver NASA science payloads to the moon along with other payloads from commercial customers. For NASA, the contracts announced today as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program is a pre-cursor step for the larger moon program, Artemis. NASA hopes the Artemis program will result in humans on the moon by 2024 followed by the building of a lunar base at the South Pole.
NASA said in a statement that “each commercial lander will carry NASA-provided payloads that will conduct science investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies on the lunar surface, paving the way for NASA astronauts to land on the lunar surface by 2024.”
NASA also stated “each partner is providing end-to-end commercial payload delivery services to NASA, including payload integration and operations, launch from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. These early missions will enable important technology demonstrations that will inform the development of future landers and other exploration systems needed for humans to return to the lunar surface.”
The value of the contracts issued today is $US253.5 million.
The other six companies that are part of the CLPS program, and who were not selected for the first contracts, are still eligible for future opportunities. The total value of the CLPS program over the next 10 years could be worth up to US$2.6 billion. Today’s first batch of contracts is about 10% of the total available funds.
Astrobotic Technology contract
- Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has been awarded $79.5 million and has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021. Astrobotic has not selected a launch partner as yet.
Intuitive Machines contract
- Intuitive Machines of Houston has been awarded $77 million. The company has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021. Intuitive Machines will use SpaceX as its launch partner.
Orbit Beyond contract
- Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has been awarded $97 million and has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters, by September 2020. Orbit Beyond will use SpaceX as its launch partner.
The Canadian payload
At this point we are aware of only one Canadian company that will be on one of these flights. It was 10 days ago that Astrobotic’s announced Toronto area company Canadensys as customer. The payload Canadensys will fly with Astrobotic is a lunar science and technology payload that promotes Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).