As part of its Artemis Moon project, NASA has on November 18, added five more companies to join and be eligible to apply for missions. Joining the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (CLPS) are Blue Origin, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corp, Ceres Robotics, and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc. The companies are now allowed to apply for a chance to deliver payloads to the moon on behalf of NASA, ahead of its human-crewed mission in 2024. Nine other companies had been earlier named in November 2018, bringing the total number of companies under the program to 14.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement that the agency is inviting companies of various sizes to the program, expanding the scope of innovative solutions and bringing down the cost to NASA and taxpayers in general. The project, he added, will deliver more payloads to the moon, furthering research into efficient ways of running a human-crewed mission to the moon.
The program incorporates lander ideas varying in size, from the huge Starship spacecraft by SpaceX to the smaller probes proposed by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, to ferry rovers to the moon.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Managing director of the Space Mission Directorate, said in the release that the program is designed to make use of the commercial industry’s resources and technology to quicken the mission. He added that the project would bolster the agency’s capability to do research on the lunar surface and to develop new technologies that will make human exploration more efficient.
Rovers such as the new Volatile Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), experimental equipment, power plants human-crewed, and other lunar equipment are expected to be ferried by these companies. Between now and November 2028, agency officials say, NASA will spend a total of $2.6 billion on its CLPS contracts. All 14 companies in the initiative are eligible to apply to deliver NASA payloads.
NASA granted the three first contracts to Astrobotics, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond companies for lander projects in July. Orbit Beyond has pulled out but is eligible to vie on future contracts. In 2024, the Artemis is scheduled to land two astronauts, the next man, and the first woman, on the moon.
Cargo moon landers are not the only ones developed commercially, however, as NASA is seeking to use private-developed landers for its mission to the moon. The agency had chosen 11 firms in May to design and build prototypes for the mission as well as to deliver their proposals to NASA. NASA is expected to choose four finalists out of the recommendations from the companies early next year.