Moon Express and NanoRacks partner on lunar payloads

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COLUMBIA, Md. — Commercial lunar lander company Moon Express announced an agreement with NanoRacks Oct. 10 to carry commercial payloads to the surface of the moon.

Under the agreement, NanoRacks, a company best known for transporting satellites and other payloads to the International Space Station, will handle sales, marketing and technical support for payloads that will fly on Moon Express’ series of lunar lander missions, starting in early 2018.

“The primary goal of our alliance with NanoRacks is to ensure a great customer experience,” said Bob Richards, founder and chief executive of Moon Express, in a statement. “Our companies share a culture of customer focus, and together we will be able to provide end to end support from payload concept to mission operations.”

Jeff Manber, chief executive of NanoRacks, said in a speech at the annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) at the headquarters of the Universities Space Research Association here that discussions between the two companies started a couple of months ago.

“NanoRacks is going to take the lessons learned on our utilization of the space station,” he said, “and we’re now, NanoRacks and Moon Express, going to move those lessons out to the moon and beyond.”

Manber added he wanted to demonstrate that commercial space efforts were not limited to Earth orbit. “I don’t believe that commercial and capitalism should be and can be restricted to low Earth orbit,” he said. “I don’t think that capitalism has a geographical limitation of 250 miles [altitude]. I think you’re going to find that it works quite well in the vacuum of deep space.”

Manber and Richards said after the speech that details about the partnership are still taking shape, but that NanoRacks will help market payload space on Moon Express missions. Richards said he expected NanoRacks to be particularly helpful addressing the “long tail of the market,” such as university payloads.

“We’ll take our cues from Moon Express about where we lead and where we follow,” Manber said.

Moon Express is also seeking to win business from NASA. The agency has previously indicated an interest in awarding contracts for commercial transportation of experiments to the lunar surface using landers being commercially developed, based on responses to past requests for information.

At the LEAG meeting, a NASA official said a request for proposals for commercial transportation services would be issued soon. “We hope to get the RFP out for lunar surface cargo transportation by the end of the calendar year,” said Ben Bussey, chief exploration scientist in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. That will be “swiftly” followed by a separate RFP for payloads that could be flown on those missions, he added.