NASA has announced plans to begin soliciting proposals for the purchase of commercial lunar landers. Speaking at a House space subcommittee in Washington on September 7, NASA’s director of advanced exploration systems, Jason Crusan revealed that the agency was developing a call for proposals.
“What we are now looking at doing is actually buying landed delivery services in the next fiscal year, of actually buying the first ability to land small payloads,” Crusan explained. “We’re preparing for the solicitation as we speak.”
Initially, the lunar transports would serve as proof of reliability ensuring that the commercial industry is up to the task. “This is a sign of our growing confidence in the commercial industry,” Crusan said, “and managing risk without getting too large or too costly a payload for us on their maiden flights.”
This latest push towards commercial lunar landers will be a continuation of the agency’s 2014 Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) program. The program awarded three companies, Moon Express, Astrobotic Technology and Blue Origin with Space Act Agreements to begin developing their landers.
Moon Express is set to be the first to deliver with the launch of their first lander, the MX-1E expected as early as next year. Founder and chief executive, Bob Richards explained that the lander’s first mission will “deliver a diverse manifest of scientific and commercial payloads to the lunar surface.” Following a successful maiden flight, Moon Express has confirmed that they already have successive missions booked a rate of one a year.
Astrobotic Technology’s chief executive, John Thornton has revealed that the company’s Peregrine lander is expected to make its maiden flight in 2019. Even though it will launch a full year after Moon Express, Thornton insists that “Astrobotic is leading the world in lunar sales and market development,” This seems likely though when you consider that the company does have a staggering 11 deals already signed with an additional 115 currently being negotiated.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins is the final company to have been selected by NASA for the initial commercial lunar lander deal. The company’s Blue Moon concept is touted as being able to land several tons on the lunar surface. Although impressive, the status of their lander is unknown with no planned launch date being revealed just yet.
Image Credit: NASA/Neil Armstrong