NASA has invited nine companies to bid on delivery services to the moon as part of its greater Moon to Mars mission.
The new commercial partners, announced Thursday at a Washington, D.C. press conference, will compete for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts that the space agency says could total $2.6 billion over the next 10 years.
Technical feasibility, price, and schedule will determine which companies are chosen to deliver science and technology payloads to the moon for NASA, with missions potentially flying as early as next year.
The list of nine partners includes major players and smaller startups. They are Astrobotic Technology, Inc. of Pittsburgh; Deep Space Systems and Lockheed Martin Space, both of Littleton, Colorado; Draper of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Firefly Aerospace, Inc. of Cedar Park, Texas; Intuitive Machines, LLC of Houston; Masten Space Systems, Inc. of Mojave, California; Moon Express of Cape Canaveral, Florida; and Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey.
The initial payloads only need to weigh at least 22 pounds, Geek Wire reports, but NASA plans to eventually fly shipments as much as several tons for lunar development. The space program has also reportedly floated the idea of selling tourists tickets to space.
In announcing the commercial partners, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the move “marks tangible progress in America’s return to the Moon’s surface to stay.”
“The innovation of America’s aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars,” he said in a statement.
NASA’s Moon to Mars program was launched in September, a result of President Donald Trump’s space policy directive instructing NASA to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”