NASA invites SpaceX and Blue Origin to help with moon missions

NASA has announced more partnerships to help it in its ambitious quest to send the first woman and the next man to the moon by 2024.

The space agency has already selected nine companies to help it with its future space missions, but on Monday it announced a further five, namely SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Ceres Robotics, and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, all of which are based in the U.S.

The total of 14 commercial space companies will work as part of NASA’s Artemis program, which is seeking to establish a sustainable presence on the moon, with an eye on eventual crewed missions to Mars.

Being part of the pool doesn’t mean an automatic ticket to the moon, however. Companies will first have to bid on proposals to provide deliveries to the lunar surface via NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which is part of the Artemis program.

Those selected will use their technology to land a range of equipment on the lunar surface beginning in 2021, with the payloads likely to include equipment such as rovers, power sources, and science experiments. The payloads will help scientists study the moon and prove technologies needed for eventual trips to Mars and possibly beyond.

NASA has already awarded contracts to three of the 14 companies — Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond — to send a variety of science payloads to the moon in 2021. However, Orbit Beyond has had to pull out after it said it wasn’t in a position to meet the deadline.

Driving innovation and reducing costs

“American aerospace companies of all sizes are joining the Artemis program,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a release. “Expanding the group of companies who are eligible to bid on sending payloads to the moon’s surface drives innovation and reduces costs to NASA and American taxpayers. We anticipate opportunities to deliver a wide range of science and technology payloads to help make our vision for lunar exploration a reality and advance our goal of sending humans to explore Mars.”

Blue Origin, led by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will be hoping to get the nod from NASA with its Blue Moon lander that it showed off in May 2019. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, on the other hand, is touting its Starship spacecraft, which sports surely one of the most eye-catching rocket designs to date.

The CLPS contracts have a combined value of $2.6 billion through November 2028, with NASA considering the technical feasibility, price, and schedule of bids when deciding how to award them.

In October 2019, NASA unveiled the new spacesuits to be worn by astronauts during the upcoming moon missions. The Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU suit for short, is designed to be less restrictive and allow far more movement than previous spacesuit designs, and also protect the astronauts from the extreme temperatures that they’re expected to experience during their lunar explorations.

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