Building on the progress of NASA's partnerships with the U.S. commercial space industry to develop new spacecraft and rockets capable of delivering cargo, and soon, astronauts to low Earth orbit, the agency is now looking for opportunities to spur commercial cargo transportation capabilities to the surface of the moon.
NASA has released an announcement seeking proposals to partner in the development of reliable and cost-effective commercial robotic lunar lander capabilities that will enable the delivery of payloads to the lunar surface. Such capabilities could support commercial activities on the moon while enabling new science and exploration missions of interest to NASA and the larger scientific and academic communities.
NASA's new Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative calls for proposals from the U.S. private sector that would lead to one or more no-funds exchanged Space Act Agreements (SAA). NASA's contribution to a partnership would be on an unfunded basis and could include the technical expertise of NASA staff, access to NASA center test facilities, equipment loans, or software for lander development and testing.
"As NASA pursues an ambitious plan for humans to explore an asteroid and Mars, U.S. industry will create opportunities for NASA to advance new technologies on the moon," said Greg Williams, NASA's deputy associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "Our strategic investments in the innovations of our commercial partners have brought about successful commercial resupply of the International Space Station, to be followed in the coming years by commercial crew. Lunar CATALYST will help us advance our goals to reach farther destinations."
The moon has scientific value and the potential to yield resources, such as water and oxygen, in relatively close proximity to Earth to help sustain deep space exploration. Commercial lunar transportation capabilities could support science and exploration objectives, such as sample returns, geophysical network deployment, resource prospecting, and technology demonstrations. These services would require the ability to land small (66 to 220 pound, or 30 to 100 kilogram) and medium (551 to 1,102 pound, or 250 to 500 kg) class payloads at various lunar sites.
"In recent years, lunar orbiting missions, such as NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, have revealed evidence of water and other volatiles, but to understand the extent and accessibility of these resources, we need to reach the surface and explore up close," said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Commercial lunar landing capabilities could help prospect for and utilize these resources."
Lunar CATALYST supports the internationally shared space exploration goals of the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER) NASA and 11 other space agencies around the world released in August. The GER acknowledges the value of public-private partnerships and commercial services to enable sustainable exploration of asteroids, the moon and Mars.
Commercial lunar cargo transportation systems developed through Lunar CATALYST could build on lessons learned throughout NASA's 50 years of spaceflight. New propulsion and autonomous landing technologies currently are being tested through NASA's Morpheus and Mighty Eagle projects.
NASA will host a pre-proposal teleconference on Monday, Jan. 27 during which proposers will have an opportunity to ask questions about the announcement. Proposals from industry are due by March 17. The announcement of selections is targeted for April with SAAs targeted to be in place by May.
The Advanced Exploration Systems Division in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate manages Lunar CATALYST. Advanced Exploration Systems pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.