NASA is Officially Seeking Ideas from Private Companies for Lunar Missions

NASA is officially seeking ideas from private companies to help work on future technologies for the Moon. What’s more, NASA published its methodology for sending crewed missions back to the Moon.

So far in 2019, China's Chang'e-4 lander mission accomplished the first-ever soft landing on the dark side of the moon at the beginning of January. Then there was a stunning lunar eclipse, known as the Super Blood Wolf Moon that took place on Jan. 21. And NASA will honour the 50th anniversary of the iconic Apollo 11 mission that saw astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins step foot on the moon later this year.

NASA is working on sending humans back to the moon by 2028, and in a statement released Feb. 7, NASA detailed how they will work with U.S. companies to develop reusable systems to help accomplish this goal. 

Using current and newly-developed technologies, NASA will strive to complete the mandate set out by the presidential administration's Space Policy Directive 1 as soon as possible, according to agency officials.

In the statement, Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s Administrator said that these commercial partnerships would be multiphased and possibly include collaboration with other countries to help advance the missions to even further destinations, like Mars.

As per Bridenstine, the technology currently being used in low-Earth orbit will function as a springboard for the development of the reusable lunar systems. 

One essential part of NASA's approach is to set up a gateway that would work for round-trip lunar voyages. This would enable the first building blocks for fully reusable lunar landers to be refuelled by cargo ships holding fuel from Earth to the Gateway, said agency officials. 

However, that would only be the start. Moving forward, the fuel could be harvested from the moon itself. Part of the project aims to find ways of making rocket propellant with water ice and lunar dust from the moon in what is called in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).

NASA’s formal request for proposals published on Feb. 7 is part of Appendix E to the second Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement. With this request, NASA’s goal is to raise money for flight demonstrations of lunar landers built for astronauts by private companies that would conduct vital research and help with risk-reduction initiatives. The deadline is March 25th, 2019.