Today (Nov. 18), NASA announced the selection of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp., Ceres Robotics and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc. to join its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (CLPS). The five companies can now vie to deliver robotic payloads to the lunar surface for NASA, helping to pave the way for the return of astronauts to the moon by 2024.
"American aerospace companies of all sizes are joining the Artemis program," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. "Expanding the group of companies who are eligible to bid on sending payloads to the moon's surface drives innovation and reduces costs to NASA and American taxpayers. We anticipate opportunities to deliver a wide range of science and technology payloads to help make our vision for lunar exploration a reality and advance our goal of sending humans to explore Mars."
The five companies join nine others selected by CLPS in November 2018, bringing the total number of private moon lander hopefuls to 14 firms.
The newly selected five are:
- Blue Origin, Kent, Washington
- Ceres Robotics, Palo Alto, California
- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado
- SpaceX, Hawthorne, California
- Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc., Irvine, California
They include moon lander concepts of all sizes. They range from the truly massive — SpaceX's towering Starship vehicle — to land multiple rovers on the moon, to the smaller one-off probes like the boxy concept proposed by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.
"The CLPS initiative was designed to leverage the expertise and innovation of private industry to get to the Moon quickly," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, said in the statement. "As we build a steady cadence of deliveries, we’ll expand our ability to do new science on the lunar surface, develop new technologies, and support human exploration objectives."
Blue Origin's lander concept is based on its Blue Moon uncrewed vehicle, which the company's billionaire founder Jeff Bezos announced earlier this year.
Sierra Nevada Corp. and Ceres Robotics are developing mid-sized landers that could potentially be scaled up to larger vehicles in the future.
NASA plans to use private moon landers built by these partner companies to deliver rovers like the agency's new Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the moon's south pole. Other payloads could include power stations, science experiments and other lunar infrastructure.
NASA plans to spend a total of $2.6 billion on its CLPS contracts through November 2028, agency officials said. The 14 companies currently in the program can bid on NASA delivery services.
"All of them bring to the table different strengths and different ideas," Clarke said in a telecon with reporters today. "That's the intent, is to really broaden the pool — to bring on additional capabilities with new, innovative ideas so that our solution set is somewhat broader now."
In July, NASA awarded the first three contracts under the program, awarding lander missions to companies Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and Orbit Beyond. Orbit Beyond dropped out of that contract but remains eligible to bid on future opportunities.
"Buying rides to the Moon to conduct science investigations and test new technology systems, instead of owning the delivery systems, enables NASA to do much more, sooner and for less cost, while being one of many customers on our commercial partners' landers," NASA's Steve Clarke, deputy associate administrator for exploration in the science directorate, said in the statement.
Artemis aims to put the first woman, and the next man, on the lunar surface by 2024 and to establish a long-term, sustainable human presence on and around the moon by 2028.
Such activities will help NASA develop the expertise necessary to put boots on Mars, something the agency wants to do in the 2030s, agency officials have stressed.
NASA is also looking to the private sector to develop crewed moon landers. This past May, the agency selected 11 companies to conduct studies and build prototypes. These 11 had until Nov. 1 to submit detailed proposals for the Artemis human lander, and NASA is expected to pick up to four finalists early next year.