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NASA calls for commercial partners on robotic lunar lander initiative

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January 22, 2014

NASA is seeking commercial partners to develop robotic lunar landers (Image: NASA)

NASA is seeking commercial partners to develop robotic lunar landers (Image: NASA)

With China successfully landing a robotic rover on the Moon, there’s been speculation in some circles as to whether or not a new space race between China and the United States will start soon. That’s as maybe, but if Space Race Mk II does happen, the American landing craft might be owned and operated by a private firm. Lending strength to this argument is NASA's recent announcement of its Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative, which aims at kickstarting private development of commercial lunar transports through partnerships with the space agency.

NASA partnerships aren’t a new idea. In fact, in recent years it’s been the agency’s preferred way of getting around shrinking budgets or lack of government interest in various programs. The most prominent of these has been Commercial Crew Program (CCP), where NASA called on private industry to come up with a replacement for the Space Shuttle to carry crews and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The result is the recent visits by the Dragon and Cygnus space freighters to the station, with more to follow as NASA concentrates on manned deep space missions.

With Lunar CATALYST, NASA is soliciting proposals from potential partners to develop a reliable and cost-effective commercial robotic lunar lander for carrying cargo to the lunar surface. The idea is that these landers would be used for commercial purposes, such as mining helium-3, cryogenic manufacturing, solar power generation or spacecraft refueling, while helping out NASA and other researchers on scientific missions, such as sample returns, prospecting, and technology demonstrations.

"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," says Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Commercial lunar landing capabilities could help prospect for and utilize these resources."

NASA’s contribution is one or more of what it calls a “no-funds exchanged Space Act Agreements.” That means the space agency will provide technical help, access to NASA test facilities, equipment, and software, but no money.

NASA sees the first landers from the partnership to be capable of landing payloads weighing 66 to 220 lb (30 to 100 kg) or up to 551 to 1,102 lb (250 to 500 kg) while using technologies developed by NASA’s lander programs, such as new propulsion systems and autonomous operations.

NASA says that it will hold a pre-proposal teleconference on January 27. Proposals will be due on March 17 and selections are scheduled for April.

Source: NASA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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7 Comments

NASA should just become like the FAA. Stop trying to put things in space because you suck at it. Leave it to private corporations who can actually accomplish something without having to pay 37 years of retirement per employee.

RelayerM31
23rd January, 2014 @ 04:26 am PST

Well .... I got news for all you budding Space-racers out there... China is already there... you lost!!!!

Michiel Mitchell
23rd January, 2014 @ 05:28 am PST

Lets just get on with it and go directly to Tranquility....prove that we did actually go there all those years ago, then we can all rest in peace.

bf_308
23rd January, 2014 @ 11:26 am PST

"...we need to reach the surface and explore up close."

Wasn't that already done? Anything can be sold to the government at exorbitant prices - but the private sector 'wasn't born yesterday!' If the planet was pure platinum or gold - it would not be worth enough to pay the shipping cost to get it here.

donwine
23rd January, 2014 @ 12:48 pm PST

@ donwine

What led you to that extraordinary conclusion.

In 1492 when Izzy threw the jewels off the edge of the world what Chris brought back was not worth the cost until many voyages later.

Slowburn
23rd January, 2014 @ 08:12 pm PST

NASA does not "suck" like mister RelayerM31 ( ignoramus) said. NASA has been put on the backburner in recent decades because of the government funding wars and the 1984-style agencies like DHS, and NSA.

NASA has helped create multiple technologies in which we use today. 1) invisible braces goes back to NASA material research. 2)Scratch Resistant Lens ( for eyes)- NASA material research too. 3) Memory Foam- you already know. 4) Ear Thermometers .... And like 10 more things and EVEN CELL PHONE TECHNOLOGY.

Come on man, if your going to get mad at something, get mad at the gooberment for making a sinkhole of money go down into wasted things like the NSA-spying and DHS which can't and hasn't stopped anything to public knowledge. No one can list a publicly revealed example of what those agencies have stopped.

hungrygiraffe
26th January, 2014 @ 09:36 pm PST

No need to be a rover. The landing is on the far side of the Moon and a radio telescope dish unfolds where would be shielded from the Earth's radio noise 'pollution'. No need to rove and all the weight would be devoted to the telescope and electronics.

.

James Oss
29th January, 2014 @ 07:26 am PST
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