CLPS Contractor That Was to be First on Moon Pulls Out

CLPS Contractor That Was to be First on Moon Pulls Out

OrbitBeyond, Inc. (OBI), one of three companies selected by NASA for a Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract, has notified NASA that it cannot meet its promised deadline of landing on the Moon by September 2020.  NASA announced today that the company “requested to be released” from its contract and the agency agreed.  The other two companies apparently are still working toward their deadlines of July 2021.

NASA devised the CLPS program as a public-private partnership where it purchases services from companies to place NASA payloads on the surface of the Moon.  NASA provides only the payload and money.  The company must develop and launch the spacecraft to carry NASA’s payloads and, hopefully, others for additional paying customers.

NASA selected nine companies in November 2018 that are eligible to receive task orders for specific missions.  OBI, Astrobotic, and Intuitive Machines received the first three task orders on May 31, just two months ago.

OBI was to receive $97 million from NASA to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain, by September 2020.

CLPS is part of NASA’s effort to move fast and sustainably on lunar exploration.  It is managed by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), whose head, Thomas Zurbuchen, repeatedly emphasizes that the agency accepts that the program entails risk and does not expect everyone to succeed.  He characterizes the program as taking “shots on goal.”

He reiterated that theme today in a series of tweets.

In a statement posted on its website, NASA said OBI  informed it of “internal corporate challenges that will prevent the timely completion of its awarded task order.”

OBI describes itself as a cislunar transportation company.  At the time of the award, OBI President and CEO Siba Padhi said the company was close to finalizing its financing.  Its website lists Jon Morse (former head of NASA’s astrophysics division) as its Chief Science Officer, Udit Shah as Tech Lead, and Michael Sims of Ceres Robotics as Rover Lead.  Based in New Jersey and Daytona Beach, FL, it has been working with India’s TeamIndus, one of the former Google Lunar X-Prize competitors, on the design of the lander.

NASA is allocating $2.6 billion over 10 years for the CLPS program.  The three May 31 awards totaled $253.5 million.

It plans to award contracts throughout that time period to get NASA payloads to the lunar surface more quickly and less expensively than if NASA used traditional procurement mechanisms.  The agency said today it “continues to formulate additional requests for task orders” and there has been no impact to the Astrobotic or Intuitive Machines contracts.

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