Washington, June 1: Three private US aerospace firms have been chosen to build and operate unmanned spacecraft that will begin exploring the lunar surface in September 2020 in preparation for a human landing, NASA said in a statement.
"NASA has selected three commercial moon landing service providers that will deliver science and technology payloads under Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) as part of the Artemis program,'' NASA's official website said on Friday.
The objective of the Artemis program is to land US astronauts on the moon by 2024 and establish a sustained human presence on and around the moon by 2028. Each commercial lander will carry NASA-provided payloads that will conduct science investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies on the lunar surface and scout possible locations for future human missions, the statement said.
NASA awarded Orbit Beyond a 97 million dollar contract to fly as many as four payloads to a lava plain in a lunar crater beginning in September 2020. A second firm, Astrobotic, won a 79.5 million dollar contract to fly up to 14 payloads to a large crater on the near side of the moon by July 2021, while the third firm, Intuitive Machines won a 77 million dollar contract to fly up to five payloads to scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, also by July 2021, the statement said.
Each company will provide end-to-end commercial payload delivery services to NASA, including payload integration and operations, launch from Earth and landing on the surface of the moon.
Astrobiotic and Intuitive Machines plan to send their landers to the moon on Space X Falcon-9 rockets, while Orbit Beyond has let to choose a company to move its equipment from Earth to lunar orbit, from which the respective landers can descend.