NASA to Partner With Astrobotic, Masten & Moon Express on Lunar Program

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA announced Wednesday the selection of three U.S. companies to negotiate no-funds exchanged partnership agreements with the agency to advance lander capabilities that will enable delivery of payloads to the surface of the moon, as well as new science and exploration missions of interest to NASA and scientific and academic communities.

The selected companies are:

  • Astrobotic Technology, Inc., Pittsburgh
  • Masten Space Systems, Inc., Mojave, Calif.
  • Moon Express, Inc., Moffett Field, Calif.

NASA made the selections following a January solicitation for proposals. The agency now will negotiate no-funds exchanged Space Act Agreements with the companies as part of the agency’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative. NASA’s contributions for an estimated three-year period may include technical expertise, access to agency test facilities, equipment loans and/or software for lander development and testing.

“NASA is making advances to push the boundaries of human exploration farther into the solar system, including to an asteroid and Mars, and continues to spur development in the commercial space sector,” said Jason Crusan, director of the Advanced Exploration Systems Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Robotic missions to the moon have revealed the existence of local resources, including oxygen and water, which may be highly valuable for exploration of the solar system. The potential to use the lunar surface in partnership with our international and commercial partners may allow these resources to be characterized and used to enable future exploration and pioneering.”

Commercial lunar transportation capabilities could support science and exploration objectives such as sample returns, geophysical network deployment, resource prospecting, and technology advancements.

The Advanced Exploration Systems Division of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate manages Lunar CATALYST. Advanced Exploration Systems pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.

As NASA works with U.S. industry to develop the next generation of U.S. spaceflight services, the agency also is developing the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS), a crew capsule and heavy-lift rocket to provide an entirely new capability for human exploration. Designed for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS and Orion will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system, including to a near-Earth asteroid and Mars.

For more information about the Lunar CATALYST initiative, visit:

  • DougSpace

    That quote by Jason Crusan is exactly the sort of NASA perspective that I would like to see them take towards the larger Lunar COTS concept. Unlike CATALYST, it would be funded and involve the development of larger “commercial” landers which would eventually be man-rated. But like CATALYST there would be the political plausible deniability that it is not NASA returning to the Moon but its commercial partners doing so. By facilitating the private development of a basic permanent lunar polar base, the plan would also work to serve international space programs and hence remove the political complaint that only America is neglecting the Moon. But beyond addressing political problems, such a program would do exactly as Jason states which in that it would provide propellant and shielding material for trips BLEO at reduced cost. Hence, the solar system becomes ours.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “which in that it would provide propellant and shielding material for trips BLEO at reduced cost”
    How? and When?.

  • DougSpace

    With the launch of a single Falcon Heavy sending a Centaur upper stage modified to land on the Moon, sufficiently large teleoperated equipment could be delivered to a permanently shadowed crater of a lunar pole. At ore concentrations of 1 part per 18, sufficient ice could be harvested and electrolyzed into propellant to refuel the lander and hence initiate a functioning cis-lunar transportation infrastructure.

    If NASA were to follow on its very successful COTS public-private programs with some “Lunar COTS” programs then, at about 5% of NASA’s budget, a functioning cis-lunar transportation infrastructure and the delivery of crew to maintain the growing telerobotic infrastructure could be accomplished in about 16 years from initial funding which is just a bit longer than what it took from the initiation of the COTS program to when crew will be delivered to the ISS.

  • DougSpace and

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Well there are several issues to overcome to bring your plan to reality, as is now suspected that the amount of water on the Moon has previously been greatly overestimated. As I see it the main problems are:

    1) There isn’t very much water on the Moon
    2) There isn’t very much water on the moon
    3) Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome – there isn’t very much water on the Moon
    4) Landing in a permanently dark, permanently very very very cold crater
    5) Hoping to land in a permanently dark crater, stick out a hose and suck in hundreds of thousands of litres of water, that by the way, isn’t there
    6) Melting the water ice and splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen with no source of power in the permanently dark crater
    7) All of this will almost certainly be more expensive than lifting water and propellent from Earth using fully reusable launchers
    8)There isn’t very much water on the Moon

    “At ore concentrations of 1 part per 18”

    1 part in 18 billion+ more like.

    A plan that might work:
    1) Develop basic landers – 15 years
    2) Develop landers sofisticated enough to land in permanently dark craters – 50 years
    3) Develop a nuclear power plant of sufficient size to power land scale industrial mining and chemical processing and suitable for use in the space environment – 50 years
    4) Develop a lunar industrial complex to mine and process the water that isn’t there – 75-100 years

    So in about 50-100 years time it may be possible to mine and process the water on the Moon, although there isn’t very much there, if any. However, having developed and cheap and mature reusable launcher system, there’s no need and no point in mining the Moon for water. Also, having developed a nuclear system suitable for powering the large scale lunar industrial complex needed to mine and process water lunar water that isn’t there, you’d be better off going with electric propulsion into the solar system rather than mining the Moon for water that isn’t there.