NASA selects 9 USA companies to make lunar robotic payloads

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The new commercial partners, announced Thursday at a Washington, D.C. press conference, will compete for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts that the space agency says could total $2.6 billion over the next 10 years.

CLPS will enable the first NASA payloads to be soft-landed on the lunar surface since the Apollo Program, and open a new era in science and exploration with regular commercial deliveries of uncrewed payload to the lunar surface.

The companies, some which will develop small launch vehicles and robotic rovers over the next 10 years, will vie for a chunk of the $2.6 billion under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The first missions under CLPS could take place in 2019, NASA said in its announcement, although many industry sources expect 2020 to be a more reasonable date for a first mission under the program.

It's no surprise that Lockheed Martin Space is among the nine CLPS companies.

"Today's announcement marks tangible progress in America's return to the Moon's surface to stay", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

According to Bridenstine, the new partners will compete to provide the best prices and innovations, creating a marketplace for transportation to and from the moon. "We will increase our efforts to expand our living sphere into space".

Bridenstine said the first lunar payloads could be launched as early as next year, but there were few details.

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The White House Space Policy Directive 1, signed December 11, 2017, revised U.S. national space policy to integrate NASA's programs with private sector partners to return to the Moon before continuing on to human exploration of Mars. Lockheed Martin is building the McCandless Lunar Lander, modeled after InSight, which the private company built for NASA.

29, NASA announced the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program in which the space agency hopes it will become one customer among many.

The lander is based on designs for Martian landers the company produced for NASA, including the InSight lander that touched down on Mars Nov. 26.

This "Moon to Mars" program includes working with global and commercial partners to send humans back to the moon as well as landing astronauts on Mars for the first time.

Specifically, Zurbuchen said expectations should not exceed 50 percent. SpaceX carries cargo, and soon will carry astronauts, to the International Space Station. The agency didn't disclose the maximum contract amounts for each company. However, only 12 astronauts have ever stepped foot on the lunar surface.

NASA wants lots of companies involved to encourage competition and get to the moon fast, so astronauts can benefit once an orbiting outpost is up and running near the moon.

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