The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has selected Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond as the first three private companies to deliver science and technology payloads under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) as part of its Artemis program.
In an announcement yesterday, the administration said that each lander will carry NASA-provided payloads to conduct science investigations and demonstrate technologies on the lunar surface to pave the way for NASA astronauts lunar return in 2024. In all NASA will dole out up to $253 million in contracts to the three companies for their respective missions.
“Our selection of these U.S. commercial landing service providers represents America’s return to the Moon’s surface for the first time in decades, and it’s a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. ”Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years. Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”
As part of the submissions, each company proposed flying specific instruments including gear to predict lander positions; measure lunar radiation; assess lander impact on the Moon; and assist with navigation.
It’s not only a win for NASA, and the companies, but another feather in the cap for XPRIZE — given that Astrobotic was initially spun out of Carnegie Mellon University to compete for the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) in 2007.
The Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, which is backed by the Space Angels Network, was awarded $79.5 million to fly up to 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the moon by July 2021.
Intuitive Machines, out of Houston, received $77 million to fly five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a dark spot on the moon in the same timeframe. While Edison, N.J.-based Orbit Beyond is flying four payloads to the lunar lavea plain of Mare Imbrium, in one of the Moon’s many craters by September 2020.