NASA today announced it has selected the first commercial space companies to participate in its payload delivery service as part of the agency’s plan to return humans to the surface of the moon by 2024 and create a permanent moon base by 2028.
Astrobotic is being paid $79.5 million to carry more than a dozen payloads to the near side of the moon by 2021; Intuitive Machines was awarded a $77 million contract for five payload trips; and Orbit Beyond was awarded a $97 million contract to carry as many as four payloads to a lava plain by 2020.
Initial trips will be dedicated to the delivery of scientific investigation and discovery, and the payloads will likely be related to that purpose. Payloads carried by each company will be determined this summer, according to a NASA statement.
The news caps what’s been a momentous month for NASA and commercial space companies. NASA introduced the Artemis program on May 16. Named for the twin sister of Apollo, Artemis will include lunar landing studies with companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, and SSL.
Initial space station conceptual plans from companies like Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman were introduced earlier this week, and last week, NASA selected Maxar as the first commercial partner for a lunar space station in the moon’s orbit.
Blue Origin, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, introduced its first lunar module and a new rocket earlier this month as part of its pitch to be included in Artemis. More could be revealed next week at re:Mars, a space, AI, and robotics conference Amazon is hosting in Las Vegas.
In other recent initiatives, an Israeli private space company failed to land a rover on the moon in April; in January, China’s space agency became the first to land on the dark side of the moon; and in May, India announced plans to become the fourth nation to land a module on the moon this fall.