NASA is taking its next moonshot seriously into a joint public-private project.
The space agency grants a total of $ 45.5 million to 11 US companies, including SpaceX from Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos & Blue Origin, to help develop spacecraft that can take astronauts to the lunar surface. NASA strives to achieve this goal in 2024 as part of its ambitious goal Artemis program.
The money is awarded through NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. Every company must contribute at least 20% of its total project costs, according to agency officials.
Related: Can NASA really put astronauts on the moon in 2024?
"To accelerate our return to the moon, we challenge our traditional way of doing business and will streamline everything from procurement to partnerships to hardware development and even operations." Marshall Smith, director of human lunar exploration programs at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, said today in a statement (May 16).
"Our team is excited to go back to the moon as quickly as possible, and our public-private partnerships to study human landing systems are an important step in that process," Smith added.
NASA & # 39; s lunar plan includes a small space station called gate, with which the office starts building in orbit around the moon a few years later. Gateway will serve as a surface exploration hub; astronauts leave the outpost in the circuit and return there when their work is done on the gray sand.
Three different spacecraft are needed for these cruise surface trips, NASA officials explained: a "transfer element" that transports Gateway astronauts to a low lunar orbit; a "descent element" that will take them to the ground; and an "ascent element" for the journey back to Gateway.
Private landers in front of the moon
The newly announced funds will help the 11 companies study and build their versions of these three elements, as well as a potential "refueling element" that can increase the reusability of the overall system. For example, the Blue Origin award requires the company to perform one descent element study and one transfer element study and build a prototype of a transfer element.
Boeing's album is even fuller. The space giant was tapped to conduct studies on the elements of descent, transfer and refueling and to build prototypes of each of these vehicles (and two prototypes of the descent element, in fact).
The SpaceX prize is for one graduation research.
The other eight companies that receive money are Aerojet Rocketdyne, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Masts Space Systems, Northrop Grumman, OrbitBeyond, Sierra Nevada Corp. and SSL. This is what each of these companies will do, according to NASA & # 39; s press release.
Aerojet Rocketdyne: Perform a search for a transfer vehicle.
Blue Origin: Conduct a research on the origin element, transfer vehicle study and develop a prototype of a transfer vehicle.
Boeing: Performing a graduation research, developing prototypes with two descent elements, conducting a research into transfer vehicles, developing a prototype of a transfer vehicle, conducting a research into topping up and developing a prototype of a refueling element.
Dynetics: Conduct a search for descent elements and develop five prototypes with descent elements.
Lockheed Martin: Provide a descent element study, prototypes with four descent elements, one transfer vehicle study and one test for refueling elements.
Masts Space Systems: Provide a prototype with a descent element
Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems: Offers a descent element study, prototypes with four descent elements, an investigation into the refueling of elements and a prototype of a corrosive element.
OrbitBeyond: Provide two prototypes for fueling
Sierra Nevada Corporation: provide a descent element study, a descent element prototype, a transfer vehicle study, a transfer vehicle prototype, and a fuel refill study.
SpaceX: Conduct an investigation into descent investigation.
SSL: Provide a test model for refueling elements and a prototype of a corrosive element.
A manned return from the moon became the official US policy in December 2017 when President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1. NASA initially focused on the late 2020 & # 39; s for the next human mission to the moon surface, but vice president Mike Pence announced the more aggressive 2024 timeline last March.
That first manned landing is not the ultimate goal for Artemis. The program aims to create a long-term sustainable human presence on and around the moon as a prelude to manned Mars missions. The moon is a big stepping stone for the much harder trip to the Red Planet, NASA officials have said.
Mike Wall & # 39; s book about the search for extraterrestrial life, "Outside"(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate) is now available. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.