CLPS's mission will be the agency's first partnership in space. The first can fly as early as next year, and NASA hopes to send two loads every year for the next ten years. It is unclear what type of tool NASA hopes to send, although the first call for proposals must come out in the coming weeks or months.
Most of the companies involved never flew spacecraft from this complexity and scale, and Bridenstine acknowledged that some CLPS missions would likely fail to reach a "soft" landing on the moon's surface.
"This is a venture capital venture," he told reporters. "In the end, the risk is high, but the returns are also very high for low investment."
"This is a big experiment," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for Science.
Relatively small and inexpensive payloads sent through the CLPS program will be followed by more traditional middle and large class missions, Bridenstine said, including crew missions which eventually led to the moon.
US President Donald Trump has given the name of sending American astronauts to the moon as a destination for his government. The 1st Space Policy Directive, signed last December, directs NASA to collaborate with the private sector to return to the moon on its way to a long-term mission to Mars.
But no US spacecraft landed on the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and it's been exactly 50 years since NASA last sent a robot mission to the surface of the moon. Earlier this year, NASA surprised scientists by canceling the Prospector Resource mission, the only American lunar rover currently under construction.
However, the only natural satellite of the Earth is being explored by other countries; The mission of Chang 'e 4 and 5 China, which will send a rover to the moon, and return rock samples from the surface, is scheduled to be launched next year. India and Israel also plan to launch landers next month.
Notre Dame's moon geologist Clive Neal, who is the emeritus chair of the Moon Month Exploration Analysis Group, is very optimistic about the prospects for science under the CLPS program. Many researchers a month were disappointed by the cancellation of the Prospector Resource mission – "I'm still," Neal said.
But he cheered on the possibility that partnerships with the aerospace industry might make the moon more accessible. Zurbuchen said on Thursday that the mobile lunar laboratory remained one of NASA's goals for lunar exploration, although such a mission would likely be developed through a more traditional process.
He also said that NASA hopes to become one of the few customers who provide cargo for this commercial mission. Carpooling to the moon – maybe with academics or other companies – must reduce costs, he said.
The CLPS announcement came when NASA conducted a safety review of its two main partners, SpaceX and Boeing. The two companies have been contracted to fly astronauts to the International Space Station but have experienced setbacks and delays as their work to develop their spacecraft. SpaceX in particular has attracted attention after founder Elon Musk received marijuana and drank whiskey on a podcast. Both companies were among those chosen for the feasibility of CLPS.
The Washington Post