NASA has awarded multi-million dollar contracts to three companies who will deliver experiments and technology packages to the moon. An example of a space-age supply chain, the robotic landers carrying the deliveries would be the first American spacecraft to touch down on the moon since the astronauts of Apollo 17 left in 1972.
According to an article in the New York Times, “Orbit Beyond is aiming to be the first to take off, in September 2020. The company, with NASA’s award of $97 million, has proposed flying as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the moon’s largest craters.”
“Astrobotic is aiming to launch in summer 2021. It has been awarded $79.5 million and has proposed flying as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, another lunar crater.”
“Intuitive Machines has been awarded $77 million to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, an intriguing dark spot on the moon.”
The first round of payloads include instruments to measure radiation, the moon’s magnetic field and surface composition, advanced solar arrays and a navigation beacon.
The article also says “Unlike past moon programs, which have been designed and operated by NASA, the space agency wants to take a low-cost, high-risk approach.” Chris Culbert, manager of the NASA program, known as Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPD), said, “NASA is just a customer here.” NASA officials realize that some, maybe most of these companies will likely fail. “But the hope is that the effort kick-starts a new industry, essentially a FedEx or U.P.S. to the moon.”
Human missions are expected to be launched no sooner than 2024.