NASA Looking for Commercial Lunar Landers

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With two commercial companies now making cargo runs to the international space station, NASA is looking to foster commercial deliveries to the Moon, a solicitation for partnerships released Jan. 16 shows.

Currently, there is no money for the initiative, called the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown, or CATALYST. But NASA is offering technical expertise, software and the use of its facilities and equipment.

“Such capabilities could support commercial activities on the moon while enabling new science and exploration missions of interest to the larger scientific and academic communities,” NASA said in documents posted on its procurement website.

Specifically, the U.S. space agency is looking for one or more robotic lunar landers that can deliver small payloads between 30 kilograms and 100 kilograms and medium payloads between 250 kilograms and 500 kilograms to the surface of the Moon. The landers need to be able to be carried into space on U.S. commercial launch vehicles, the solicitation notes.

Potential missions include returning lunar samples, prospecting for water and other resources and demonstrating new technologies. 

NASA said it would not be providing any development or designs, but could provide, at no cost, access to “testing facilities such as thermal vacuum chambers, vertical flight test beds, clean rooms, etc., on a non-interference basis.” 

It also can loan hardware and possibly contribute specific software elements for the development and testing of the lander. The agency anticipates selecting one or more partners for unfunded Space Act Agreements in April.

Proposals are due March 17.