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NASA selects 9 American companies to potentially send payloads to Moon

02 December 2018

"We're trying to very quickly develop an American capability to deliver small payloads to the surface of the moon and then grow from there", Bridenstine said during the announcement.

That's when NASA plans to give an update about a program that aims to land privately developed spacecraft on the moon.

The nine companies now eligible to bid on CLPS are: Astrobotic Technology Inc., Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace Inc., Intuitive Machines LLC., Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems Inc., Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.

Firefly Aerospace: An Austin-based company focused on economical and convenienct access to space for small payloads via reliable launch vehicles.

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Ultimately, these upcoming missions will help NASA gather data in order to prepare to send a lander with a person in it to the Martian surface.

NASA has expressed its dismay at Elon Musk's recent behavior on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast when the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla smoked marijuana and drank whiskey during the taped interview.

The first orbital test flights of Crew Dragon and Starliner are now targeted for early next year, with crewed demo missions to follow in mid-2019. The CLPS contracts have a combined maximum value of $2.6 billion over the next 10 years, so companies are eager to win them.

It's also unknown what NASA would do if SpaceX launches its first unmanned missions to Mars with BFR in 2022, followed by the first crewed missions to the red planet in 2024. Sean Mahoney, chief executive of Masten, called the award a long-awaited milestone for the company, which won part of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, part of NASA's Centennial Challenges prize program, almost a decade ago.

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"The goal of the lunar programs is to ensure national interests at the new space turn. We've never done anything that fast", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, which manages the contracts with these firms. The company is now developing a "Peregrine Lander" aimed at orbital and surface operations for any lunar destination.

NASA is pursuing dual projects of building a lunar orbital platform and returning astronauts to the moon in the mid-2020s - all of these missions are aimed towards eventually sending humans to Mars. 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". Those involved with CLPS underlined the spirit of cooperation required for complex programs such as this one to be successful.

Bridenstine expects to have humans working intermittently on the moon, along with robots and rovers, within a decade.

The outline published by NASA to fulfill the Space Policy Directive, the "Exploration Campaign", focuses on three core domains for development: low Earth orbit, lunar orbit and surface, and Mars, with the option of other deep space objectives being integrated.

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NASA selects 9 American companies to potentially send payloads to Moon