NASA has selected three commercial partners that will supply lunar landers to carrying agency payloads to the Moon. The three company’s awarded Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts are Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond.
The announcement was made during a NASA TV broadcast on May 31 hosted by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. According to Zurbuchen, each of the three landers will carry “NASA-provider payloads” that will demonstrate advanced technologies and conduct scientific experiments. The agency hopes the missions will help pave the way for the country’s crewed return to the lunar surface by 2024.
“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. ” Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”
The three CLPS contracts awarded more than $250 million. Astrobotic, which was founded in 2008 and based in Pittsburgh was awarded $79.5 million. The company’s lander will carry as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater located on the near side of the Moon. The Astrobotic lander is scheduled to be launched by July 2021.
The second company selected, Intuitive Machines was awarded $77 million and is based in Houston, Texas. The company plans to carry as many as five payloads to a dark spot on the Moon known as the Oceanus Procellarum. The Intuitive Machines lander is also scheduled to be launched by July 2021.
Finally, OrbitBeyond from Edison, New Jersey was awarded $97 million. The company hopes to transport as many as four payloads to a larva plain in one of the Moon’s craters. The OrbitBeyond lander is expected to be the first of the three mission and is scheduled to lift off in September 2020.
At this point, there have been no official announcements of which launch vehicles the three companies will utilise. However, in the past, both Intuitive Machines and OrbitBeyond have stated that they plan to launch aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. Astrobotic has explored launching aboard an Atlas V in the past but has recently stated that it is assessing launch options.