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NASA awards $253.5M to 1st commercial ‘moon landing services’ partners

NASA visitor's center. (Pixabay/Released)

NASA has announced its first commercial partners for its Artemis program, and all three “moon landing services” partners are American-based companies.

Each company will play a hand in delivering payloads that will “conduct science investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies on the” surface of the moon. The U.S. space agency adds that this work will help pave the way for mankind’s return to the lunar surface by 2024. The companies include Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey; Intuitive Machines of Houston and Astrobotic of Pittsburgh.

Astrobotic will receive $79.5 million and has proposed to handle 14 missions to a large crater on the near side of the moon by July 2021, according to NASA. Intuitive Machines will receive $77 million from the space agency for five payloads delivered to a “scientifically intriguing dark spot” on the lunar surface by July 2021. Orbit Beyond has been awarded $97 million for its proposal of delivering as many as four payloads to a lava plain in a crater known as Mare Imbrium by September 2020.

“These landers are just the beginning of exciting commercial partnerships that will bring us closer to solving the many scientific mysteries of our Moon, our solar system, and beyond,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the space agency’s science mission directorate, said in a the release.

“What we learn will not only change our view of the universe, but also prepare our human missions to the Moon and eventually Mars.”

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Each of the companies announced as partners will provide what NASA is calling “end-to-end commercial payload delivery services” launching from Earth to the surface of its moon. This comes after NASA selected 11 American companies to help it conduct studies and craft prototypes of human landers. The space agency awarded $45.5 million across the selected organizations.

“This announcement starts a significant step in NASA’s collaboration with our commercial partners,” Chris Culbert, program manager at NASA, said in the release. “NASA is committed to working with industry to enable the next round of lunar exploration.

“The companies we have selected represent a diverse community of exciting small American companies, each with their own unique, innovative approach to getting to the Moon. We look forward to working with them to have our payloads delivered and opening the door for returning humans to the Moon.”

The space agency says 2024 is the targeted date to launch the habitation capabilities of its lunar “Gateway,” which is hoped to allow crews to live and work in deep space for 30 to 60 days at once.

See below for a rundown of NASA’s timeline:

· Mission announced in 2017

· Commercial moon deliveries completed in 2019

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· Exploration Mission-1 in 2020

· Exploration Mission-2 in 2022

· First use of Gateway Element in 2022

· Science and Exploration Rover lands on moon in 2023

· American astronauts land on the moon in 2024

· Lunar surface missions in 2028

· Astronauts on Mars aimed for the 2030s

“President Donald Trump has asked NASA to accelerate our plans to return to the Moon and to land humans on the surface again by 2024. We will go with innovative new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the surface than was ever thought possible,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a previous statement.

“This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay. And then we will use what we learn on the Moon to take the next giant leap — sending astronauts to Mars.”

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©2019 MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

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