NASA has selected four companies to collect space resources and transfer ownership to the agency: Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado; Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California; ispace Europe of Luxembourg; and ispace Japan of Tokyo. Overall, the new NASA contracts with these companies totals $25,001.
Space resources will play a key role in NASA’s Artemis program and future space exploration. The ability to extract and use extraterrestrial resources will ensure Artemis operations can be conducted safely and sustainably in support of establishing human lunar exploration. Moreover, in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) will play a vital role in a future human mission to Mars. Like many other operations, ISRU activities will be tested and developed on the Moon, building the required knowledge to implement new capabilities that will be necessary to overcome the challenges of a human mission to Mars.
“These awards expand NASA’s innovative use of public-private partnerships to the Moon. We’re excited to join with our commercial and international partners to make Artemis the largest and most diverse global human space exploration coalition in history,” said Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations. “Space resources are the fuel that will propel America and all of humanity to the stars.”
A great deal of work remains to be done to develop robust ISRU capabilities. Both robotic and human explorers will test new technologies and techniques.
“Leveraging commercial involvement enhances our ability to safely return to the Moon in a sustainable, innovative, and affordable fashion,” said Phil McAlister, director of Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA Headquarters. “A supportive policy for the recovery and use of space resources provides a stable and predictable investment environment for commercial space innovators and entrepreneurs.”
Companies will collect a small amount of lunar regolith from any location on the Moon and provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material, along with data that identifies the collection location. Subsequent to receiving such imagery and data, an “in-place” transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith to NASA will take place. After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the Artemis program.
NASA solicited fixed price quotes using simplified acquisition procedures and selected companies using the “low-priced, technically acceptable” selection method. The agency evaluated quotes and assigned a pass-fail rating based on their ability to satisfactorily meet the requirements of the solicitation. Companies were then selected from the acceptable proposals, in accordance with the agency’s available budget, starting with the lowest-priced proposals. Details about the selection are:
- Lunar Outpost proposed collection for $1 following arrival of a lander to the lunar South Pole in 2023.
- ispace Japan proposed collection for $5,000 following arrival in 2022 of a lander to Lacus Somniorum on the Moon’s northeastern near side.
- ispace Europe proposed collection for $5,000 following arrival in 2023 of a lander to the lunar South Pole.
- Masten Space Systems proposed collection for $15,000 following arrival in 2023 of a lander to the lunar South Pole.
Companies will receive 10% of their total proposed price upon award, will receive 10% upon launch, and the remaining 80% upon successful completion. NASA’s payment is exclusively for the lunar regolith. The agency will determine retrieval methods for the transferred lunar regolith at a later date.
Companies must take all actions to perform the contracts in full compliance with the Registration Convention, Article II, and other provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, as well as in accordance with NASA’s other relevant international obligations. NASA will continue to publicly release data and scientific discoveries gained through safe and sustainable lunar exploration to benefit all of humanity.