National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected the winning candidates that they have decided to tap to collect lunar resources for eventual Earth return.
The four companies all have rides booked on future commercial lunar lander missions, and the agency is using this as a demonstration of what kinds of efficiencies it can realize by piggybacking on private industry for serving its needs.
It is also a precedent-setting event for NASA paying private companies to retrieve materials that they retrieved and owned privately for their own purposes prior to transferring ownership to the agency.
The winning bids were evaluated based on two simple criteria: Basically, were they technically feasible, and how much they did cost.
There were four winners, each with a different ride out, which will seek to satisfy the conditions of NASA’s request, which is basically to collect a lunar regolith (essentially what we call “soil” on the moon) in an amount ranging from between 50 grams to 500 grams, with retrieval to be handled separately by NASA at a later date.
The samples had to be collected before 2024 as part of the request, which sets them up for possible retrieval via NASA’s Artemis mission series, though the agency isn’t necessarily going to actually pick up the samples, it reserves the option to do so.
The four companies selected are:
Lunar Outpost, from Golden, Colorado, which bid to complete the contract for just $1, following the arrival of the Blue Origin lunar lander in 2023.
ispace Japan, which asked for $5,000 for a retrieval via the landing of its Hakuto-R lander during its first mission currently set for 2022.
ispace Europe, a part of ispace Japan’s global corporate footprint, which bid for $5,000 and an arrival in 2023 on the second Hakuto-R mission.
Masten Space Systems, which asked for $15,000, with an arrival in 2023 using its Masten XL lander.