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NASA extends agreements to advance commercial lunar landers

(3 November 2017 - NASA) NASA will continue its partnerships with three U.S. companies that are advancing technologies to deliver cargo payloads to the lunar surface. The partners—Astrobotic Technology, Inc., of Pittsburgh, Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, and Moon Express of Cape Canaveral, Florida—began work in 2014 under NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative. The original three-year agreements were amended to extend the work for another two years.

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The Peregrine Lunar Lander flight mock-up is shown here in an environment similar to the Moon. Peregrine will be able to deliver up to 35kg to the lunar surface. (courtesy: Astrobotic Technology)

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Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander will be capable of bringing up to 100 kg (221lb) to the lunar surface. The XL-1 engine, shown here undergoing testing, uses a storable and nontoxic hypergolic bipropellant combination that enables lower-cost spaceflight operations. (courtesy: Masten Space Systems)

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Moon Express’ MX-1 Scout Class Explorer is designed to deliver up to 30kg to the lunar surface. MX-1 uses eco-friendly fuels, advanced carbon composites and silicates, powered by the Moon Express PECO (propulsion that's eco-friendly) rocket engine. (courtesy: Moon Express)

“We expect that the demand for lunar cargo delivery services will increase in the next decade, and we want to support U.S. industry efforts to meet that demand,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems in Washington. “All three partners have shown remarkable growth in the past three years, so we’re optimistic that they could begin delivering small payloads to the Moon as early as next year.”

Based on the significant progress each partner has made, NASA is extending and updating the no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreements with the goal of seeing the first commercial cargo deliveries to the Moon over the next few years. The CATALYST partners, working closely with NASA engineers, have advanced their lander and mission designs through end-to-end mission simulations and subsystems tests, as well as engine hot-fire tests and tethered flight demonstrations. NASA technologies have been incorporated into the partner spacecraft designs in some cases, such as the Core Flight System software, which Astrobotic, Masten, and Moon Express all have adopted as the backbone framework for their flight software.

Under the Lunar CATALYST agreements, the companies fund or fund-raise all of their own lander development, while NASA loans equipment and provides the partners with technical expertise and access to test facilities. The updated agreements include new milestones, which NASA and the partners use to track progress toward fielding robotic landers for flights to the Moon.

Robotic missions have confirmed the presence of resources on and below the surface of the Moon, a revelation that has begun to change the way some deep space missions are designed. NASA and other space agencies have shown a global interest with plans to launch almost two dozen robotic missions in the next decade, and commercial lunar transportation capabilities can extend these efforts to continue advancing our knowledge of the Moon and its potential resources. To gauge private-sector interest, NASA issued Requests for Information over the past year seeking ideas for instruments, experiments, or payloads that could be deployed to the lunar surface, as well as commercial payload delivery capabilities for lunar surface missions.