Orbit Beyond Ends NASA Contract to Land Spacecraft on Moon

Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters. (Credit: Orbit Beyond)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Citing “internal corporate challenges”, Orbit Beyond has pulled out of a $97 million contract with NASA to land a spacecraft on the moon in July 2021.

“Orbit Beyond, Inc., has informed NASA of internal corporate challenges that will prevent the timely completion of its awarded task order,” the space agency said in a press release.

“As a result, Orbit Beyond requested to be released from the task order agreement. NASA made a contract administration decision to comply with OBI’s request and, as a result, terminated the task order effective July 28, 2019 on terms mutually agreeable to both parties,” NASA said.

Based in New Jersey and Florida, Orbit Beyond’s planned to use lander technology developed by TeamIndus, an Indian group that competed for the non-defunct $30 million Google Lunar X Prize. The competition whose goal was to place a privately-funded moon rover on the surface ended in March 2018 without a winner.

NASA allows foreign participation under its contract with Orbit Beyond, but the landers must be built in the United States. TeamIndus’ key role in an American mission raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

“While this partnership appears to comply with NASA’s solicitation, the optics, obviously, are not good,” Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) said at a House Space Subcommittee meeting in June.

It’s not clear whether there was a snag in obtaining a license for the TeamIndus technology, or if Orbit Beyond has been having difficulty closing a funding round required to supplement NASA funding.

Two American companies, Ceres Robotics and Honeybee Robotics, were partners in the landing mission, which would have delivered four instruments to the lunar surface.

In May, NASA awarded lunar landing CLPS contracts to Orbit Beyond, Astrobotic Technology and Intuitive Machines to deliver scientific and technological payloads to the moon.

The contracts was awarded under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Instead of building its own lunar vehicles, the space agency is paying commercial companies to deliver payloads to the moon.

The goal of CLPS is to allow for relatively rapid delivery of payloads to the moon. NASA has qualified nine companies to bid on CLPs contracts.

“Orbit Beyond remains a CLPS contract awardee and may be eligible to compete for future CLPS opportunities,” the space agency said. “NASA’s selections of the two other vendors (Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines) are not impacted by this decision.

“NASA is still on track to having our first science payloads delivered to the lunar surface in 2021,” the space agency said. “Astrobotic has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021.

“Intuitive Machines has proposed to fly as many as five payloads for NASA to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021,” NASA added.