- The last time NASA landed on a satellite, it was in December 1972.
- The US space agency has announced it is about to announce "lunar partnerships" with US companies to return to the lunar surface.
- NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the new moon missions would be "sooner than you think!"
- NASA retains the details of the announcement until Thursday, but Business Insider has independently confirmed certain information.
If the mind-blowing landing of a robot the size of NASA on NASA has not already opened you appetite for space exploration, mark your schedule for 2 a.m. EST on thursday.
It is at this time that NASA plans to take stock of a program to land on the moon of spacecraft developed by the private sector.
"We are announcing new partnerships with US companies," said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator. tweeted Tuesday. "The United States is returning to the surface of the moon, and we are doing it sooner than you think!"
NASA has not landed on the moon since Apollo 17 in December 1972, the latest mission of the crew's lunar exploration program. (The agency has, however, planted probes in the moon to study the composition of its soil.)
The space agency is working on building a "lunar orbital platform gateway": a space station to be built in the vicinity of the moon in the 2020s. But Business Insider has learned that Thursday's announcement is linked to a more imminent effort to explore the moon and, by extension, to support NASA's broader goals through its gateway.
"Working with American companies is the next step toward conducting long-term scientific studies and human exploration of the Moon and Mars," NASA said in a press release.
What NASA could announce on Thursday
NASA provided little details on its announcement but said that "future partners" would be named. Each of the 11 small companies to be named will be eligible to compete for millions of dollars in contracts with NASA.
Business Insider has independently confirmed that a company called Astrobotic Technology would be one of these partners, but an Astrobotic employee said he could not reveal details until Thursday.
Sources from the space industry also told Business Insider that this announcement would spell out the future of the agency's commercial payload service program (CLPS).
In many ways, the CLPS system is similar to NASA's commercial crew program, which uses billions of dollars to convince private companies (such as SpaceX and Boeing) to develop new spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts into orbit. Similarly, SPDP hopes to encourage small businesses to develop robotic robots capable of providing NASA scientific loads on the surface of the moon.
The SPDP missions could launch and land in 2019, according to NASA. NASA could also use the competition to solicit much larger landing gear designed to take people from the lunar surface in the late 2020s.
Astrobotic was formed in 2007 at the Google Lunar X Prize, a $ 20 million contest aimed at boosting the private exploration of the moon. The competition ended in 2018 with no winner, but Astrobotic continued to develop a small lunar lander called Peregrine.
In March, Astrobotic would work with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to find space for a rocket that could send Peregrine to the moon sometime in 2020. Space News announced in May that Astrobotic was preparing to carry 12 payloads on the lunar surface.
Then, in August, Astrobotic received $ 10 million from NASA to create a "stand-alone, reliable, high-performance, low-cost" system to put a commercial lunar machine on the moon. The funding was part of NASA's $ 44 million awards to companies developing "tipping point" technologies for space exploration.
Who else could be involved?
The list of NASA people to participate in Thursday's announcement includes Bridenstine, Thomas Zurbuchen (Deputy Administrator of the Agency for Science Missions), Stan Love (NASA Astronaut), Andrea Mosie (responsible Apollo sampling laboratory), Barbara Cohen Scientist Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) and students participating in the first robotics competition.
If the "tipping" awards are an indication of other companies that could be referred to as "future partners", this list could include Blue Origin, the aerospace company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.
Blue Origin has won $ 13 million in NASA's "tipping point" awards – funding for the development of "critical technologies for precision and soft landing on the moon".
In October, Blue Origin said to be "in the design phase" of building a large lunar lander called "Blue Moon". The company is also creating a reusable rocket system called New Glenn, which could take off in 2020.
Blue Origin did not immediately respond to Business Insider's requests for comments, and SpaceX – which could use its Falcon Heavy rocket to send large payloads to the moon – did not respond in time for publication .
ULA is another company that could be named as NASA's new partner, ULA, which received $ 13.9 million under "tipping points". Of this amount, about $ 10 million was intended to help ULA develop systems for long-term lunar missions.
Frontier Aerospace Corporation has also secured $ 1.9 million from NASA to develop rocket engines to help the Astrobotic lander.
Watch the NASA announcement live online
The agency plans to broadcast its briefing via NASA TV, which anyone can watch on YouTube.
You can tune using the built-in player below from 14:00. EST on thursday.
If you are unable to watch the stream above, try NASA TV on the agency's website.