NASA: Commercial Partners Key to Sustainable Moon Presence

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

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — As NASA shifts human exploration back to the Moon, U.S. commercial partnerships will be a key to expediting missions and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface. The agency is orchestrating a robotic lunar campaign with a focus on growing commercial base of partnerships and activity that can support U.S. science, technology, and exploration objectives.

NASA is planning a series of robotic commercial delivery missions as early as 2019 ahead of a human return to the Moon. These missions will deliver NASA instruments and technology to the surface of the Moon to conduct science and prepare for human exploration. Among the instruments to be flown are the instrumentation suite from the former Resource Prospector mission concept.

“We conducted a thorough science and engineering assessment of Resource Prospector and determined all four instruments are at a high technology readiness level, are appropriate for science on the Moon, and will make flights on future Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) missions,” said Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These tools will provide important scientific data on various landing sites, and will help NASA better understand the lunar environment.”

The science potential for each instrument varies with the potential landing site, and most can be enhanced through mobility after landing.

These projects include:

  • Near Infrared Volatile Spectrometer Subsystem, or NIRVSS, to monitor the Moon’s surface and identify water and other volatiles
  • Neutron Spectrometer Subsystem, or NSS, to search for hydrogen below the Moon’s surface
  • A regolith and ice drill
  • Water Analysis and Volatile Extraction (WAVE) instrument to accept and heat samples to quantify water and other volatiles extracted from below the surface

Since the agency announced a draft solicitation for CLPS in April, NASA has hosted an industry day for prospective responders to talk about the agency’s broad plans for lunar exploration, and encouraged U.S. industry to respond for the first missions back to the Moon. NASA leadership also recently discussed lunar exploration plans during a public town hall, and discovering volatiles on the Moon was a primary topic of discussion. These early instruments will be an important step to better understanding what’s below the Moon’s surface.

“We know there are volatiles at the poles on the Moon, and quite frankly, that water ice could represent rocket fuel,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “If we have the capability to generate rocket fuel from the surface of the Moon, and get them into orbit around the Moon, we could use that to build a fueling depot. If we want to make that happen though, we will need commercial partners.”

NASA wants to ensure industry is moving with the agency as it pushes human exploration farther into the solar system than ever before, and meets the objectives of Space Policy Directive 1.

CLPS missions will be among the first robotic steps back on the Moon, and NASA will follow the early, small lander missions with the first of two larger lander demonstration missions planned in 2022. These mid-size lander missions will be an important step toward evolution to human landers, and the mid-size landers are expected to be built through public/private partnerships.

NASA’s return to the Moon with commercial and international partners is part of an overall agency Exploration Campaign in support of Space Policy Directive 1. It all starts with robotic missions on the lunar surface, as well as a lunar outpost for astronauts in space around the Moon. In addition to purchasing new small lunar payload delivery services, the agency is preparing to develop lunar landers, and plans to conduct more research on the Moon’s surface ahead of a human return. And that long-term exploration and development of the Moon will give NASA experience for the next giant leap – missions deeper into the solar system.

“We will renew and strengthen our commitment to American commercial space companies, and NASA will lead the way as we once again explore the Moon and look to Mars, and beyond,” said Bridenstine.

  • windbourne

    yes and no.
    Commercial can help get it started esp filling in place that gov can not,
    BUT, gov is needed to fund sending missions to the moon, and keeping them there.
    For example, we should focus on putting landers on the moon every quarter for 3 years.
    At the same time, we need to put up 2-3 private space stations and vet them.
    After that, we should put 3-5 astronauts on each.
    After that, we should be able to put a base on the moon.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Government should help, but it’s clear NASA is culturally and organizally not structured for it. You need a new PPP like Comsat for lunar industrialization.

  • MzUnGu

    Oh, no…not again. Didn’t they say there will be commercial activity for ISS? LOL

    Aren’t every private company doing business up there pretty much a government contractor, where the end product are use and purchased by the government?

    Com-Sat, and space cameras was the only “Killer App” for space, What is like the “killer app” for the Moon?

  • P.K. Sink

    …“We will renew and strengthen our commitment to American commercial space companies, and NASA will lead the way as we once again explore the Moon and look to Mars, and beyond,” said Bridenstine…

    Music to my ears.

  • Tom Billings

    Looking for the Silicon Valley-style killer app on the Moon or elsewhere has been a pre-occupation of NASA HQ for the last 35 years, with the clear intention of not finding it. Since they never find it, they never have to worry about anyone using markets as their means of allocating resources, outdoing their own hierarchy in productivity. That way the funding can keep flowing from the committees in Congress, without embarrassment.

    The killer app concept should be killed. There is no golden snitch to catch that will transform the Moon into something that will be benefit those back here on Earth, because the benefit of going into the Solar System is in leaving Earth behind, …for the settlers. The key lies not in specific government contracts, but in a pattern of government contracting that allows settlement to happen over time by people who want to leave Earth behind, …by dropping costs for doing that.

    The first step is being taken by SpaceX and BO, in reducing launch costs. Others are being taken by space manufacturing groups, some paid for by government and some not. When they are successful in lowering their costs by the same 2 orders of magnitude that Musk and Bezos agree is needed for launch, we will see substantial numbers leave and benefit as they desire already.

    No killer app is needed. Rather lower costs in launch, building of equipment from in situ resources, and in gaining possession of whatever is settled. IMHO, the first steps for that were taken by the 2015 SPACE Act.

  • MzUnGu

    Taking the Greyhound to North Dakota is pretty cheap already… Yet, You don’t see many people moving their family or business there, do you?

  • Paul_Scutts

    The only value of the Moon currently is that it is a point around which Government supported commercial HSF/robotic activity can be galvanised. I think that’s great and am wholly supportive of such. As Tom has said further down to MzUnGu, the critical factor is the reduction of cost by two orders of magnitude for transportation to/from and accommodation off-Earth. This will be the factor that will be able the closing of the cases for mass orbital tourism and valuable off-Earth material acquisition and processing.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Actually there was a number of folks moving there during the oil boom. Although most folks are rooted to where they are born there is always a small percent that are pioneers. It’s this small minority that will move humanity out into the Solar System and the Galaxy beyond.

    In the 1600’s immigration to New England was only at the rate of a couple thousand per year including those given the choice of death or the colonies by the judges. In terms of the American West it was always less than 1 percent of the population pioneering the frontier prior to the big campaigns by the railroads to settle the land. And even there the focus of those campaigns was on Europe on folks who were tired of the strict class system that kept them living in proverty and constant attacks on ethic minorities.

    Space will be no different and it will be their spiritual descendants that will settle the space frontier. The key will be making the laws and policies to make it happen. The Space Resources Act of 2015 and the rewriting of space regulations by the this new Presidential Directive will be key factors in creating the environment.

    And don’t underestimate the impact of the right legal environment. Although England tried to start settlements in America in the 1500’s, it was the legal invention of the corporation and the start of peace with Spain that enabled it.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I dont think we are anywhere close to that…

  • ThomasLMatula

    Not yet…

  • Robert G. Oler

    I dont think that we are even close with humans…