NASA selects nine companies for lunar landing gear commercial program


WASHINGTON – NASA has selected nine companies, ranging from startups to aerospace giants, to be able to claim future payload delivery contracts on the moon 's surface, with no guarantee of a market for any business. between them.

NASA announced on November 29 the selections as part of its commercial lunar payload service (CLPS) program, under which the agency would purchase space on future commercial lunar landers to transport scientific instruments and other useful payloads. The winning companies are:

  • Astrobotic Technology, Inc .: Pittsburgh
  • Deep Space Systems: Littleton, Colorado
  • Draper: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Firefly Aerospace, Inc .: Cedar Park, Texas
  • Intuitive Machines, LLC: Houston
  • Lockheed Martin Area: Littleton, Colorado
  • Masten Space Systems, Inc .: Mojave, California
  • Moon Express: Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Orbit Beyond: Edison, New Jersey

The companies selected range from Lockheed Martin, a major aerospace company, to little-known startups, as well as companies competing with the now defunct Google Lunar X Prize, to those that have not publicly voiced the # Intention to do so. landers.

"When we go to the Moon, we want to be a customer among many customers in a robust market between the Earth and the Moon," said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator, at an event hosted by the headquarters from NASA. "We want multiple suppliers that compete on costs and innovation."

In the press release announcing the winning companies, NASA said these companies would be eligible for prices of up to $ 2.6 billion over the next ten years. The agency did not disclose the maximum amount of contracts for each company. The awards are all indefinite delivery contracts, indeterminate contracts, and it is not unusual for the actual value of these awards to be well below the maximum value.

For now, each company will receive a small unspecified amount of funds for the development of a payload usage guide. NASA will then compete with individual task orders between companies to send specific charges to the moon.

"They are now part of the catalog, so to speak," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Assistant Administrator for Science. "They will argue over the tasks we are going to entrust in weeks and months." The first SPDP missions could take place in 2019, NASA said, although many industry sources expect 2020 to be more reasonable. date for a first mission under the program.

NASA is identifying payloads that can fly on these payloads. Mr Zurbuchen said that the agency had a "set of instruments" ready to fly now or likely to be in the near future, such as a retroreflector allowing precise laser telemetry of the Earth-Moon distance. NASA also launched a call in October for instruments and other technologies that can be flown on commercial landers.

Masten XL-1
Masten Space Systems is developing LG XL-1 for SPDP. Credit: Masten Space Systems

NASA does not provide any development funding to any of the SPDP companies, which will need to raise the funds needed for their landing gear from other sources. Bridenstine and Zurbuchen both acknowledged that some of the winners might not be able to deliver their landing gear, while new companies could emerge and could be eligible to join the program via future 'ramps'.

"Think of it as venture capital. Our investment is low because we have other people investing, "said Bridenstine. "But we have more suppliers. In other words, the portfolio is bigger, so we can take risks. "

The companies themselves only made an appearance at the event, appearing briefly on stage without commenting. Subsequently, some companies discussed the details of their planned landing gear systems.

Lockheed Martin, by far the largest company selected for the SPDP, announced that she would develop what she called the McCandless Lunar Lander, named in honor of the late astronaut Bruce McCandless. The LG is based on Martian landing gear designs produced by the company for NASA, including the InSight lander that landed on Mars on November 26th.

"The Lockheed lander is a little bigger than some of the others," said Joe Landon, vice president of advanced program development at Lockheed Martin's civil and commercial space unit. He said that the undercarriage would be able to deliver payloads of up to 100 kg.

Orbit Beyond, a small company that is planning to develop a series of lunar landers, is close to the companies. It is associated with its CLPS award with several other companies, including Team Indus, one of the finalists of the Google Lunar X. Team Indus Award, based in Bangalore, India, is not eligible for a prize of SPDP because of NASA's requirement that companies be based in the US and carry out development work at the national level.

Jeff Patton, Senior Engineering Advisor at Orbit Beyond, said the company would transfer the technology for the Team Indus lander so that versions of it could be built in the United States. The company is considering potential facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for integration and testing. "The design is really mature now," he said.

Masten Space Systems is developing a lunar lander called XL-1 that will be able to place up to 100 kilograms on the lunar surface from 2021. Sean Mahoney, general manager of Masten, has called the price of This is a long-awaited milestone for the company that won a portion of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, part of NASA's Centennial Challenges awards program, almost a decade ago.

"Since 2009 and the lunar challenge up to today, we are working to make this thing happen," he said about SPDP.

He noted that many details on the functioning of the SPDP have yet to be determined, but he was optimistic about his prospects. "A lot of it is developing, but the good news is that everything is going fast."

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