NASA Signs Three Commercial Contracts for Lunar Payload Delivery Services

NASA Signs Three Commercial Contracts for Lunar Payload Delivery Services

NASA has awarded fixed price contracts to three companies to deliver NASA payloads to the lunar surface.  These service contracts are part of the agency’s shift to purchasing commercial services instead of building new spacecraft itself in order to move quickly, save money, and stimulate commercial activity in space.  The missions will take place in 2020 and 2021.

The three companies are responsible for developing, launching and landing small spacecraft on the Moon.  NASA provides only the science experiments and technology demonstration payloads it wants to place there.

NASA initiated the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) effort in May 2018 and in November selected nine companies for Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quanity (IDIQ) contracts that made each eligible to bid on task orders for specific missions.  Eight of the nine submitted bids for the task orders awarded yesterday. NASA chose three.

  • Astrobotic, Pittsburgh, PA:  $79.5 million to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis on the near side of the Moon by July 2021
  • Intuitive Machines, Houston, TX: $77 million to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum a “scientifically intriguing dark spot on the the Moon” by July 2021
  • Orbit Beyond, Edison, NJ:  $97 million to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain, by September 2020

The total award of $253.5 million is part of a $2.6 billion pot of money NASA is allocating for the CLPS program over the next 10 years.  All nine companies can bid on future task orders.  In February, the agency issued a list of 12 payloads it will have ready to go by the end of this year.

Illustration of Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander. Credit: Intuitive Machines.

NASA wants to be just one of many customers for the companies and some do, in fact, have payloads for other countries or companies on the same mission.  Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said during a press conference yesterday that the company has 28 payloads from eight different countries for its Peregrine lunar lander.

Illustration of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander. Credit: Astrobotic.

Thornton and Steve Altemus, President and CEO of Intuitive Machines, told reporters that they already have all their financing in place for these missions. Orbit Beyond President Siba Padhi said his company is close to finalizing its financing.

Astrobotic began its lunar landing program as one of the teams vying for the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP), although it withdrew from the competition in 2016.  Another former GLXP competitor, Team Indus, is a partner in Orbit Beyond.  No one won the GLXP grand prize of $20 million and the competition was terminated in 2018.  (However, the XPrize Foundation gave Israel’s SpaceIL $1 million for launching its Beresheet lunar lander earlier this year even though the landing failed.)

The companies must make their own launch arrangements.  Orbit Beyond and Intuitive Machines each plan to launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.  Astrobotic has been in partnership with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for several years to launch as a secondary payload on an Atlas V rocket, but Thornton said yesterday the company also is in discussions with SpaceX and will make a decision in the next few weeks.

The CLPS program is managed by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD).  SMD head Thomas Zurbuchen and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stress that they do not expect all of the companies to be successful.  They characterize the CLPS effort as “taking shots on goal” to get payloads on the lunar surface as quickly and cheaply as possible.  A 50 percent success rate is acceptable to them.  Steve Clarke, SMD’s Deputy for Exploration, said yesterday that he has “high confidence” in these companies, however.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.