"The timeline is unprecedented".
The first orbital test flights of Crew Dragon and Starliner are now targeted for early next year, with crewed demo missions to follow in mid-2019. In a news release, NASA said that "w$3 orking with USA companies is the next step to achieving long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and Mars".
While Bridenstine was gung-ho about utilising commercial outfits to get NASA's science to the moon, he was less confident about his private partners getting NASA's astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) any time soon.
Lockheed Martin already has a moon lander in the works modeled after the Mars InSight lander, which the company built for NASA. Astrobotic, Moon Express, Masten Space Systems, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond have all been picked to provide services to NASA on future lunar missions.
The companies will bid contracts worth a combined value of $US2.6 ($4) billion. The first few launches will probably be technology demonstrations, but NASA hopes to study radiation exposure on the moon as well as the potential for in-situ resource extraction.
Maston Space Systems: A Mojave-based company focused on reusable rocket technology and reliable planetary landers for the Earth, Moon, Mars, and beyond.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday that nine American companies will compete to carry experiments to the surface of the moon. It's one of the largest NASA contractors and is now working on the Orion crew module. NASA said that additional companies could be included at a later date.
The Commercial Crew Program, developed under President Barack Obama, will pay companies to transport human crews. His Space Policy Directive 1, signed last December, directs NASA to collaborate with the private sector in returning to the Moon en route to a longer-term mission to Mars.
NASA also expects to send an American crew around the moon in 2023.
The NASA administrators fielded questions from reporters, Twitter users, and young STEM students-the ingenuousness of children's questions contrasting the press's pointed attempts to glean more details about the contract contents, vague selection criteria, and types of experiments.
Remarks made on Thursday, Nov. 29 reinforced NASA's assertion it was returning to the Moon. "What seems to have changed is the color of carpet", he said. The new space station would orbit the moon.
"I would say NASA is taking a risk but that's not a bad thing". We've proven this with the ISS with commercial resupply and, soon, commercial crew. This is not going to be 'Lucy and the football' again. "It is about a colony on the surface of the moon". [Image: NASA] By example, he cited a set of retro-reflector instruments, in partnership with Germany and Israel, as nearly ready to go.
The relatively small and affordable payloads delivered via the CLPS program would be followed by more traditional medium- and large-class missions, Bridenstine said, including an eventual crewed mission to the Moon.