Three small companies that built robotic lunar landers are getting big business from NASA.Texas-based Intuitive Machines, Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, and a group called OrbitBeyond were each selected by NASA to deliver science and research cargo to the moon. The companies could complete their first missions within the next couple of years, executives and NASA officials said Friday.
The cargo will include devices that will help map and navigate the lunar surface, measure radiation levels, conduct scientific investigations, and assess how human activity impacts the moon, NASA said in a press release.
The partnerships are part of the US space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS program, which was announced last year and includes up to $2.6 billion worth of contracts.
For this first batch of awards, Astrobotic will get $79.5 million, Intuitive was awarded $77 million, and Orbit Beyond will receive $97 million. Astrobotic and Intuitive plan to launch their first missions in 2021, while Orbit Beyond expects to land on the moon by September 2020.
“Today, NASA becomes a customer of commercial partners who will deliver our science instruments and our lunar technology to the moon,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a video about the announcement. “The landers and instruments they deliver — and the science, technology and research that will be done in the immediate future — will prepare the way for humanity’s return to the moon by 2024,” he said.