NASA has announced the selection of five more companies within the program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). They’re added to the ones announced in November 2018 for a total of 14 companies that will be eligible to bid on proposals to provide services to send various types of cargoes to the Moon. They’re support services to the Artemis program which aims to send humans back to the Moon. There’s the well-known SpaceX, another company that already has contracts with NASA such as Sierra Nevada Corporation, an ambitious company that has yet to show what it can do such as Blue Origin and two lesser known companies such as Ceres Robotics and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc.
Between 2018 and 2019 a number of announcements from NASA illustrated plans for the return to the Moon and to involve private companies to support the new manned lunar missions of the Artemis program until the construction of a stable base on the Moon. The big problem of the Space Launch System (SLS) development continues because there’s a lot of skepticism about the possibility that the new NASA super-rocket could be ready for a Moon mission in 2024. Instead, the transport of other cargoes could be accomplished using other existing rockets therefore NASA must choose one of the proposed projects for a Moon lander. The five companies added to the potential suppliers will now be able to propose their projects.
- Blue Origin has already announced in May 2019 through its founder Jeff Bezos its own lunar lander project, which will can now be proposed to NASA within the CLPS program.
- Ceres Robotics is a company founded in 2017 with the aim of developing robotic vehicles that work on the surface of other celestial bodies such as the Moon and Mars. It’s already working on a mission with Orbit Beyond, another company selected last year for the CLPS program.
- Sierra Nevada Corporation has already worked with NASA and in 2020 it could start resupply missions to the International Space Station with its Dream Chaser mini-shuttle. Now the company intends to go beyond the Earth’s orbit.
- SpaceX needs no introduction. It’s developing the Super Heavy launcher and the Starship second stage, which it would also use to transport a lander to the Moon.
- Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc. is a company that in recent years has worked on satellite systems based on the CubeSat standard and avionics systems.
The projects of these five companies are very different with very variable lander sizes. They’re made to carry different cargoes, which can range from some scientific payloads to be used during Moon missions to other types of supplies for astronauts. Ceres Robotics’ project is of a rover, SpaceX’s project is part of the company programs with the Super Heavy / Starship reusable system to be used for diverse missions. These are all projects that could change significantly in the future.
This is still the initial phase of the Artemis program with the support of private companies within the CLPS program. The first contracts signed in May 2019 are meant to send cargoes to the Moon in 2021 so at that point we’ll start seeing how NASA’s programs are progressing.