NASA Seeks Information on Commercial Moon Missions

GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked above the surface of the Earth on January 15. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. (Credits: NOAA/NASA)

NASA has issued a request for information (RFI) about commercial missions capable of carrying NASA payloads to the lunar surface.

“The requirement is to provide a commercial launch and landing service on existing or forthcoming FAA licensed commercial missions to the lunar surface for NASA primary payloads, NASA secondary payloads, or NASA hosted payloads, with the potential to also procure data from any commercial lunar surface missions and/or return payloads or samples to the Earth,” the RFI states.

“NASA has identified a variety of exploration, science, and technology demonstration objectives that could be addressed by sending instruments, experiments, or other payloads to the lunar surface. To address these objectives as cost-effectively as possible, NASA may procure payloads and related commercial payload delivery services to the Moon,” the request adds.

Currently, the only known FAA-licensed commercial mission to the lunar surface will be conducted by Moon Express. The company plans to launch a lander and hopper to the moon this year in an attempt to win the $20 million first prize in the Google Lunar X Prize.

Synergy Moon, an international team with U.S. members, has a contract to launch its mission to the moon later this year on an Interorbital Systems rocket off the California coast.

Astrobotic, which recently dropped out of the competition, has said it still plans to launch a rover to the moon. However, it will not do so by the end of 2017, which is a requirement to compete in the prize.

SpaceX has announced plans to send two people around the moon in a modified Dragon spacecraft. The company has said nothing about landing anything on the surface, but it’s possible the mission’s booster, Falcon Heavy, could include secondary payloads.

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  • JamesG

    Preparing to funnel money to Moon Express and RocketLab?

  • windbourne

    Hopefully, they will fund private habitats in space and on the moon.
    Just need some landers for the moon.

  • spacechampion

    Now how about an RFI for commercial Mars landings?

  • Vladislaw

    I hope funding is spread around to several firms with multiple types of landers. Let NASA have a ton of options for dropping various sized hardware on Luna.

  • Vladislaw

    What type of funding? Development? Or anchor tenant of a lease agreement?

  • Vladislaw

    Doug’s poll is interesting

    On to Mars (35%, 147 Votes)

    Back to the moon (34%, 143 Votes)

    Build cis-lunar economy with base at L-5 (31%, 131 Votes)

    1/3 – “been there done that, lets goto Mars” the break new ground followers
    1/3 – “make America great again” lets do what made us great in the first place
    1/3 – “time to bring the inner solar system into our sphere of economic activity” the economists

    I voted for build the cis-lunar economy.

  • Douglas Messier

    That was my thought, too. At least at first.

    Seems very last minute, though. RFI issued in May, answers due in June, evaluate that and then have to issue a solicitation. Not a lot of time to award contracts or integrate instruments onto the landing vehicle that needs to fly by the end of the year.

    NASA did issue an RFI six months ago looking for information about instruments that could be flown. They were looking largely for flight spares or instruments and experiments that could be put together at low cost. So, maybe there are things ready to go quickly.

    Moon Express is trying to build a business around commercially flying payloads to the moon beyond its GLXP flight. And Blue Origin has a plan to fly payloads to the moon.

  • JamesG

    But not scientific. 😉

  • redneck

    The way I voted as well, join the minority. A thriving economy will easily enhance possibilities for the other two as well as other destinations. The other two are stand alone without supporting other goals very well.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    But what is such an economy to be based upon?. Musk’s Mars plan is based on simply a desire to go to Mars as the major economic driver. What are the early major economic opportunities for cis-lunar?.

  • redneck

    Lunar tourism, farside radio telescopes, prospecting, volatile exploitation for more distant missions, low gee biology research, Lunar geology, retirement community, transportation hubs, manufacturing in vacuum.

    The thriving cis-lunar economy includes the moon. Back to the moon implies F&F Apollo redo, as does most of the Mars scenarios.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    lunar tourism – easier out of LEO

    farside radio telescopes – robotic science, don’t see how this is economic

    prospecting – lunar surface or asteroid, but neither can compete with mining on Earth within the next thousand years

    volatile exploitation for more distant missions – perhaps, and it is perhaps, in many decades time, but will it EVER be able to compete with methalox or EP lifted to LEO

    low gee biology research – so lunar surface or zero g in LEO, again, is this a cis-lunar specific economic driver?

    Lunar geology – lunar surface science, but not economic driver

    retirement community – perhaps…or, go to Mars?

    transportation hubs – LEO is much closer to Earth and easier and cheaper

    manufacturing in vacuum – manufacturing what and why not LEO?

    I’m not seeing how a cis-lunar can compete economically with LEO, or scientifically and on adventure with Mars.

  • redneck

    We are so far apart in our perceptions of reality as to preclude reasonable discussion. I have no idea what a thousand years will bring for instance, or even a hundred.

  • Vladislaw

    A government agency, NASA, has been (mandated?) told by congress where they will put funding and it looks to be cis-lunar space. We can approach it two ways. Dual use habitats that commercial customers can visit also or we can make it non dual use and make it a government monopoly.

    Dual use means NASA funding gets augmented with private capital. NASA acts as just the anchor tenant for a commercial habitat. SpaceX stated there were multiple interested parties in lunar fly bys. I can not imagine that a couple commercial slots could be sold also. Capsules that fly full with give a lower seat price to NASA. If NASA has to pay for the entire ride and seats are empty it costs more.

  • Vladislaw

    You do not need THOUSANDS of passengers to start out with. Any dual use system (private public) is cheaper for NASA. Why we do not want private capital flowing EVERYWHERE NASA is going is beyond me.

    SpaceX stated there were other interested parties about going to Cis-Lunar. It is clear once SpaceX recovers development costs (about 3 years) lunar jaunts will be less expensive and we should be building towards that kind of future.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “I have no idea what a thousand years will bring for instance, or even a hundred.”
    But you do know what will produce a “thriving economy” in cis-lunar space and that it could occur more quickly than in LEO or on Mars. What is not clear to me from your arguments/assertions thus far, is why cis-lunar is a better option (economically or otherwise) than LEO and/or LEO+Mars.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I have no objection to SpaceX (and others) adding to their bottom line by servicing cis-lunar if there is genuinely a near-term demand. But is a slowly slowly, one-step-at-a-time approach enough to generate the capital needed. To make a big change in the next decade or two, rather than slowly over many decades, we need drastically cheaper launch and drastically cheaper human spaceflight as soon as possible. Fully reusable super heavy launch and large spacecraft brings the economies of scale to achieve change quickly.

    “You do not need THOUSANDS of passengers to start out with.”
    I’m not so sure. The basic problem is how to create a large enough demand to justify the investment needed to build the necessary launch and spaceflight architectures. Mars is a grand adventure and generates a great deal of scientific and public (thus commercial) interest. Rightly or wrongly, by comparison, cis-lunar is a meh adventure.

  • Vladislaw

    You are missing on dual use as far as government operated heavy lift. Markets generally first are started by early adapters of the product or service. A to soon push for heavy lift without committed early adapters i do not see how you get dual use. Fully reusable super heavy lift will need super heavy payloads and a LOT of them. I do not see what the early adapters would be launching a lot of payload starting out. NOT without some pre existing infrastructure. That is what I am more interested in. Dual use commercial infrastructure with NASA acting as an anchor tenant. There is enough funding to get that started.

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