A photo of the moon captured by SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft in orbit.
NASA pays an amazingly low price – one dollar – for a company to produce a single small collection of lunar debris on the agency's behalf.
Colorado-based startup Lunar Outpost bid for $ 1 and won a NASA contract to serve a mission under the agency's low-cost lunar resource collection program announced earlier this year.
NASA wants to pay companies between 50 and 500 grams for individual collections of lunar regolites or lunar soil. The agency has specifically advised that companies are only paid to collect material and tell where NASA can find it on the lunar surface – not to develop the spaceship or bring the regolith back to Earth.
Lunar Outpost is one of three companies NASA selected as winners on Thursday. The other two winners were Masten Space Systems of California, which proposed a mission worth $ 15,000 in 2023, and Ispace of Tokyo, which proposed two missions worth $ 5,000 in 2022 and 2023.
"The companies will collect the samples and then provide us with visual evidence and other data they have collected. Then ownership will transfer and we will collect those samples," NASA deputy administrator Mike Gold told reporters at a news conference. "The aim [of these collection missions] is twofold: to establish important guidelines and precedents, both for the use of space resources and for the expansion of public and private partnerships beyond Earth orbit to the moon."
The agency asked for bids ranging from $ 15,000 to $ 25,000 each with a maximum limit of $ 250,000. Awards for the three companies are paid out in three steps: 10% of funds at the time of the award, 10% when the collection spacecraft is launched, and 80% when NASAA verifies that the company has collected the material.
“Will NASA write a 10 cents check [to the Lunar Outpost]? The answer is 'yes,' said Phil McAlister, NASA director of commercial space.
McAlister stated that Lunar Outpost could bid $ 1 because the company already plans to collect moon material. Therefore it is "trivial indeed" to separate regoliths for NASA.
While NASA said that Lunar Outpost will fly to the south pole of the moon on a Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin mission in 2023, Blue Origin told CNBC that it was inaccurate. Justin Cyrus, CEO of Lunar Outpost, told CNBC that his company is in talks with Blue Origin and several other companies working to go to the moon.
"We're compatible with a wide variety of countries … [but] we haven't made a final decision on any of those countries," said Cyrus. "Blue Origin is undoubtedly one hell of a spacecraft, but we're not contractually bound to use any particular lander."
The agency received 22 mission proposals from at least 16 companies, some of which were multiple bids. While NASA refused to disclose which companies had submitted proposals that were not selected, McAlister stated that some had exceeded the agency's cost or selection criteria.
NASA's announcement follows President Donald Trump's order earlier this year that the US would seek further international support for its policies that enable private organizations to collect and use resources in space. Trump's Executive Order essentially reiterates a 2015 decision by Congress that gives American individuals and companies "the right to participate in the commercial exploration, extraction and exploitation of resources in space."
In addition, comes Thursday's announcement that China is conducting its own moon sample collection mission. The Chinese lunar spaceship Chang & # 39; e 5 is currently on its way back to Earth with samples from the moon after it was launched on November 24th. It would be the first return of lunar material by a country since 1976.
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