WASHINGTON – NASA announced on November 18 that it was adding five companies to a contract for commercial delivery of payloads on the surface of the moon, a group that ranges from small-scale ventures to Blue Origin and SpaceX.
NASA has stated five companies – Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), SpaceX and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems – have been selected to join nine companies with Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) trade agreements. All 14 companies are now eligible to bid for future deliveries of payloads to the lunar surface.
This CLPS "ramp" was created specifically to attract companies with the ability to carry larger payloads to the moon's surface. This includes NASA's Mission for Volatile Polar Research (VIPER), a NASA rover planned to fly in 2022 to look for evidence of water ice at the south pole of the moon.
"We actually wanted to do this a little bit later, but we saw the need to speed it up," Steve Clark, NASA's associate research assistant at the NASA Science Mission Directorate, said about it in a teleconference with reporters. According to him, larger farmers could supply the tools needed for astronauts before their landing missions, in addition to delivering science payloads.
The largest farmer, far from new entrants, is SpaceX, which offered its reusable Starship vehicle launch. Guinea Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said Starhip would be able to deliver up to 1
"We think it's a really neat program. It reminds us a little of the COTS program, "says Shotwell, referring to NASA's efforts in commercial orbital transportation services, which funded the development of SpaceX's commercial capability.
Shotwell stated that the moon missions on Starhip ships could begin in 2022. Such missions would only be landed, but she said it could serve as a "nice step" for later missions. She did not set a date for missions, but said SpaceX would fly Starship "a lot" before flying any missions with people aboard. Tyvak Katsatel
Michael Sims, CEO of Ceres Robotics, said his company's CLPS award is a sign that small companies like him have a role in NASA's broader plans. "Space exploration, and especially people becoming multiplanetary, require an entire ecosystem of companies," he said. "The small player is the flexibility and creativity he adds to the mix." He said his company's farmer should be available for missions beginning in 2023.
Tyvak's nano-satellite systems are best known for that they are a small manufacturer. Marco Villa, the company's chief operating officer, said Tyvak will use this experience in its lunar landowners. "We'll start with something less," he said. "Our flexibility and scaling ability will make us perform more complex missions in the near future." He declined to say when his company's company would be ready.
The five companies selected from eight that have submitted proposals for this ramp, join the original nine CLPS companies selected by NASA nearly a year ago: Astrobotic, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin , Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and OrbitBeyond. In May, NASA assigned Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and OrbitBeyond tasks for lunar missions, but OrbitBeyond canceled its order two months later, citing internal business issues.
Clarke said NASA is developing a new order for companies to be released "sometime soon" for CLPS companies to bid, as well as one for the VIPER rover. The Agency works separately to invite proposals for scientific instruments to fly on these missions, with the aim of making two "deliveries" of lunar surface payloads each year.