NASA selects three companies to lead its robotic return to moon

first_img By Paul VoosenMay. 31, 2019 , 3:55 PM NASA selects three companies to lead its robotic return to moon Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Nearly a half-century after the United States last landed a spacecraft on the moon, NASA today announced the details of its first robotic return trip. But the agency’s visit, which could come as soon as next fall, won’t be on a spacecraft it designed. Instead, NASA will be buying a ride on three small robotic landers to be built by similarly small U.S. companies.The agency has awarded a total of $254 million in contracts to Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Intuitive Machines of Houston, Texas; and Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey. Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines plan to land their machines in the summer of 2021, whereas Orbit Beyond has set an aggressive schedule of landing in September 2020 on Mare Imbrium, a lava plain previously visited by Apollo 15.The contracts represent an important step for the agency, says Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. “If you’re going to have a space program, the way to keep it going is to show return of investment to the taxpayer.” The regular cadence of these missions, which could launch three to four times a year by 2024, could grab the public’s imagination—and enable scientists to answer questions about the moon that they didn’t even know to ask until recently. But the speed could also have a cost: an increased risk of failure. Last month, for example, a small, low-cost Israeli lander, Beresheet, crashed on the moon’s surface. “Some of these will fail,” Neal says. “But failure is a learning experience.” ASTROBOTIC TECHNOLOGY Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwecenter_img Astrobotic’s Peregrine is one of three landers selected to put experiments on the moon for NASA. Email Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) NASA will not be the only customer on these missions, even though it will be the largest and most important. Astrobotic, which has been developing its lander for a decade, will carry up to 14 scientific instruments for the agency on the decks of its Peregrine lander, along with an additional 14 payloads from seven other countries, the company’s CEO, John Thornton, said during the announcement. “NASA is now a major partner of the future of the moon.”Orbit Beyond’s aggressive schedule is driven by its adoption of a lander developed by its partner, Team Indus, an Indian company that was not eligible to bid on the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program on its own and had previously pursued the canceled Google Lunar XPrize. The company will carry up to four payloads, with plans to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Both Orbit Beyond and Astrobotic also plan to bring along small robotic rovers, not developed by NASA, to deploy once they land.Intuitive Machines, less well-known than its peers, will carry up to five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms, a dark lava plain on the western edge of moon’s near side. Each company proposed its landing spot, and all three focus on such plains in attempt to minimize potential hazards and demonstrate their capability. “A safe landing is most important,” Thornton said.NASA has asked its own scientists, and outside researchers, to scour their shelves for ready-to-fly instruments that it can place on the landers. Although the agency has already selected some instruments, it has not yet decided how they will be divided among the landers. A common theme among them will be a focus on understanding lunar water, which is far more abundant than once thought. “This is science that in many cases even five years ago we didn’t know to ask questions about,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, D.C.Late last year, NASA announced that it had selected nine companies to compete for regular contracts to carry scientific instruments to the lunar service. CLPS, is meant to jump-start the agency’s lunar ambitions, spurring private development much like its program that has paid private space companies to deliver cargo to the space station. NASA is willing to pay up to $2.6 billion for these services over the next decade, and the companies not selected today will remain eligible to bid on future missions.These first landers pale in capability to traditional NASA missions. They’ve been asked to only operate for about 2 weeks. Their landing sites are not exotic. But their success will pave the way for robotic exploration of the moon’s poles and far side, which have long been scientific targets for the stories they can tell about the history of the solar system. They are also “critical testbeds for the technologies and architectures needed to ensure a safe human return to the moon by 2024,” says Ryan Watkins, a lunar scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in St. Louis, Missouri.The target for a human return in 2024 is the moon’s south pole. That means it’s almost definite that future CLPS awards would target that region, Zurbuchen said. “We want to go explore where we want to land.”last_img

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