Texas-based Intuitive Machines, Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, and a group called OrbitBeyond were each selected by NASA to deliver science and research cargo to the moon. The companies could complete their first missions within the next couple of years, executives and NASA officials said Friday.
The partnerships are part of the US space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS program, which was announced last year and includes up to $2.6 billion worth of contracts.
“Today, NASA becomes a customer of commercial partners who will deliver our science instruments and our lunar technology to the moon,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a video about the announcement. “The landers and instruments they deliver — and the science, technology and research that will be done in the immediate future — will prepare the way for humanity’s return to the moon by 2024,” he said.
For the CLPS program, however, NASA is focused only on lunar landers that can haul cargo — not people.
Because the landers were privately developed, Astrobotic, Intuitive and OrbitBeyond will still own their technology and be able to sell their services to other commercial companies. NASA will just be another customer.
Right now, there aren’t a lot of business opportunities on the moon, said Laura Forczyk, a consultant and founder of research firm Astralytical. So NASA contracts are a key lifeline startups hoping to get into this line of work.
But that could change.
NASA and others want to create a lunar outpost that would require large amounts of infrastructure and the technology to do things like convert the moon’s water ice into rocket fuel. There’s also valuable resources on the moon that could be mined for a variety of uses. Ultimately, it could become a hub of commercial and government activity.