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Expands Plans for Moon Exploration: More Missions, More Science

Update – September 10, 2018: NASA released the Request for Proposal (RFP) for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) to industry on September 6, 2018, which opens the formal competition to further expand efforts to support development and partnership opportunities on the lunar surface. Due to the highly competitive environment that exists for this activity, all NASA communication with industry concerning CLPS has ceased. This “blackout” period for communication with industry will continue until all proposals have been received and evaluated, the contract awarded, and evaluation panel members released from their responsibilities. Deadline for proposal submissions is October 9, 2018.
Update – August 8, 2018: NASA is returning to the Moon with commercial and international partners as part of an overall agency Exploration Campaign in support of Space Policy Directive 1. It all starts with robotic missions on the lunar surface, as well as a Gateway for astronauts in space beyond the Moon followed by human missions to the surface. Right now, NASA is preparing to purchase small lunar payload delivery services, advance development of lunar landers for human missions, and conduct more research on the Moon’s surface ahead of a human return. And that long-term exploration and development of the Moon will give us the experience for the next giant leap – human missions to Mars and destinations beyond. 

Beginning with the delivery services for small lunar payloads, the agency released a synopsis on plans to encourage the U.S. commercial space industry to introduce new technologies to deliver payloads to the Moon. A draft RFP was released in April. This request for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) will further expand efforts to support development and partnership opportunities on the lunar surface. NASA intends to award multiple contracts for these services through the next decade, with contract missions to the lunar surface expected to begin as early as 2019. Selected robotic instruments will be among the early deliveries to the Moon on CLPS missions. CLPS will build on the groundwork from the Lunar CATALYST partnerships established in 2014 and ongoing Tipping Point investments to establish private sector capabilities to precisely and safely deliver small payloads to the lunar surface. 

NASA’s expanding Moon strategy seeks to harness the innovation of American space companies to build new lunar landers. This solicitation for payload delivery services is a sign of NASA’s ongoing confidence in U.S. industries’ abilities to meet needs for delivery services in space. These early deliveries to the lunar surface will support stronger scientific and exploration mission activities for NASA, and empower commercial industry to show the agency what they have to offer.

“We’ll draw on the interests and capabilities of U.S. industry and international partners as American innovation leads astronauts back to the Moon and to destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Our successful investments with a strong and continually growing U.S. space industry in low-Earth orbit allows us to focus on lunar activities. We’ll leverage commercial capabilities for these small payload deliveries, and CLPS missions will play an important role in our expanding and sustainable lunar exploration strategy.”

NASA has identified a variety of exploration, science, and technology objectives that could be addressed by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon. In June, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) named Steve Clarke as its Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration. Clarke serves as the NASA interface between the agency’s mission directorates, the scientific community, and other external stakeholders in developing a strategy to enable an integrated approach for robotic and human exploration within NASA’s Exploration Campaign.

Clarke will play a vital role in NASA’s current lunar campaign with a focus on growing a network of commercial partnerships and activities that can support U.S. science, technology, and exploration objectives.

Simultaneously, the agency is assessing U.S. industry interest and approaches to developing  lander capabilities to evolve performance towards human-class landers through a request for information on Lunar Surface Transportation Capability. NASA is currently reviewing responses from that request for information to help mature plans for the first two upcoming landers built through public/private partnerships.

The agency’s two lander demonstration missions will help NASA understand the requirements and systems needed for a human class lander starting with the development of a minimum 1,100 pound (500 kilogram) lander, which is targeted to launch in 2022. The ongoing small payload delivery missions will provide important data on landing precision, long-term survivability, guidance and navigation for future landers.

The landers will be capable of sample return, resource prospecting, demonstrating use of in-space resources, and this will reduce the risk when building landers for humans.

To further advance technologies need for reusable human landers and engage U.S. industry, NASA intends to release the first solicitation under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) in the near future to seek proposals from industry in support of rapid development and space flight demonstrations of these larger landers, known as Flexible Lunar Explorer (FLEx) Landers. Each progressively larger flight demonstration will validate and test lander capabilities from medium- to large-scale to ensure a path toward reusable landers for human missions to and from the lunar surface and the Gateway.

The Gateway will be a versatile outpost supporting both human and robotic missions on and around the Moon, as well as farther into the solar system. Discussions on how to use the Gateway for scientific activity are ongoing. Robotically collecting lunar samples for investigation aboard the gateway or safekeeping until they can be returned to Earth were among the concepts discussed at a science workshop hosted by NASA.

“It is critical that America leads this sustained presence with commercial and international partners on and around the Moon. And this integrated effort will support returning astronauts to the Moon as called for by Space Policy Directive 1,” said Bridenstine.

Together, these efforts are part of a sustainable approach for a long-term presence at the Moon for decades to come and enabling technologies needed for human missions to Mars and destinations beyond.