NASA Administrator reveals new commercial plan to explore the Moon

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They include some longtime players in the aerospace industry, like Lockheed Martin, but are mostly newer names with start-up cultures, like Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic and Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California. Their Moon work will focus on providing payload services. Their priority is providing low-cost rocket access to low Earth orbit (LEO). Some of the companies are expected to develop small launch vehicles or robotic rovers to explore its surface. The space community has a long history of enthusing over PowerPoint spacecraft.

Most of the companies involved have never flown a spacecraft of this complexity and scale, and Bridenstine acknowledged that some of the CLPS missions will likely fail to achieve a "soft" landing on the lunar surface. Meanwhile, a startup called Orbit Beyond is in the running for NASA's moon payloads, and it's working with TeamIndus, the Indian spaceflight company that nearly won the Lunar X Prize competition. "With previous missions like InSight, OSIRIS-REx and GRAIL, our team was able to use this experience to help shape our design for the McCandless Lunar Lander", a representative with Lockheed Martin Space told SpaceFlight Insider.

But both of those companies may be heading to the moon, anyway. Now, NASA is contracting out its next moon missions to companies that will do long-term scientific study and experiments. This new plan hopes to allow for a diverse array of customers send their payloads to the Moon. In a news release, NASA said that "w$3 orking with USA companies is the next step to achieving long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and Mars". Deep Space Systems, which has worked on Orion, Juno, and other NASA missions is also in the mix. The agency now partners with the private sector for other missions, including human transport to the International Space Station (ISS) wherein SpaceX and Boeing are developing capsules for that goal, and the Directive expands that to include deep space missions. Some of these have already made successful voyages to the Moon and Mars.

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The Space Policy Directive was born from the recommendations provided during the first meeting of the new National Space Council, a group under the US Department of Commerce's Office of Space Commerce. SpaceX and Boeing are planning to start transporting astronauts to the space station sometime next year. The objective is to help overall comprehension of the challenges involved in making significant progress in space exploration and propose viable policy solutions.

In an announcement Thursday, the space agency named the organizations that are now eligible to bid on delivering science and technology payloads to the lunar surface. Direct support to the ISS will end by 2025.

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