WASHINGTON – NASA announced on November 18 that it is adding five companies to a contract to carry commercial deliveries of utility loads to the lunar surface, a group ranging from small businesses to Blue Origin and SpaceX.
NASA said the five companies – Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), SpaceX and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems – had been selected to join the nine companies with Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts . All 14 companies are now eligible to bid on future assignment orders for the delivery of payload to the lunar surface.
This "on ramp" to CLPS was specifically designed to attract companies with the ability to carry heavier payloads to the surface of the moon. This includes NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission, a rover that NASA plans to fly in 2022 to look for evidence of water ice at the southern pole of the moon.
"We were actually looking to do this a little later, but we saw the need to speed it up," said Steve Clarke, assistant director of exploration in NASA's research mission directorate, about that ramp in a telephone conference with reporters. The larger countries, he said, were able to deliver tools needed by astronauts for their landing missions, in addition to delivering scientific payloads.
The largest lander, by far, of the new entrants is from SpaceX, which offers its Starship reusable launch vehicle. Gwynne Shotwell, president and CEO of SpaceX, said that Starhip will be able to deliver up to 1
"We think this is a really neat program. It reminds us a little of the COTS program," Shotwell said, referring to NASA's commercial orbital transportation service efforts that funded the development of SpaceX's commercial cargo capacity.
Shotwell said that Starship lunar landing missions could begin in 2022. Such missions would only be cargo, but she said could serve as a "nice springboard" for later crew missions. She did not give a crew crew date, but said that SpaceX would fly Starship "a lot" before flying any mission with people aboard.
Blue Origin will offer NASA its Blue Moon lander as the company revealed in May, capable of carrying several tons of cargo to the lunar surface. "It has a lot of payload capacity, power to get through m nkvällen, a very large, open payload tires, "said Brent Sherwood, vice president of advanced development at Blue Origin. He later declined to specify when the lander would be ready for CLPS missions and said it would depend on the details of each individual CLPS work order.
NASA also adds smaller landers to the CLPS contract. "Our company is in a great position not only to offer smaller payloads that go to the moon as we build our own satellite systems," said John Roth, vice president of business development at SNC. Roth said the company could take larger payloads with leverage technologies developed for its Dream Chaser vehicle, but he did not disclose how large the payload the company could carry. SNC could launch missions for lunar landers in 2022, he said.
Michael Sims, CEO of Ceres Robotics, said his company's CLPS award was a sign that small businesses like him had a role in NASA's broader plans. "Space exploration and especially people becoming multi-planetary requires a whole ecosystem of companies," he said. "Small player is a suppleness and a creativity that contributes to the mix." He said that the company's lands should be available for missions from 2023.
Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems is best known for being a smallsat manufacturer. Marco Villa, the company's managing director, said Tyvak would take advantage of that experience with its lunar landers. "We will start with something smaller," he said. "Our flexibility and ability to build will lead us to fulfill more and more complex tasks in the near future." He declined to say when his company's landers would be ready.
The five companies, selected from eight who submitted proposals for this ramp, join the original nine CLPS companies selected by NASA almost a year ago: Astrobotic, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and OrbitBeyond. In May, NASA awarded assignment orders to Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and OrbitBeyond for lunar landing missions, but OrbitBeyond canceled its assignment order two months later, citing internal business issues.
Clarke said that NASA is developing a new contracting company that should be released "sometime soon" for CLPS companies to bid on, as well as one for VIPER rover. The agency is working separately on an invitation to submit scientific instruments to fly on these missions, with the goal of making two "deliveries" of payloads to the lunar surface each year.