July 05, 2013
Piggybacking on the Google Lunar X Prize and various commercial endeavors, NASA has offered its expertise and test facilities to potential lunar-lander partners who might be able to help mount scientific missions to the Moon’s surface as early as 2018.
A request for information published July 2 seeks concepts for “an industry-developed robotic lander that can be integrated with a launch vehicle for the purposes of supporting commercial (and potentially future NASA) missions.”
The U.S. space agency is interested in landers that can put two classes of payload on the lunar surface — 30-100 kg. (70-220 lb.) and 250-450 kg. Potential missions “of interest to NASA” include prospecting for volatiles at the Moon’s poles, sample return and setting up geophysical networks.
“U.S. industry is flourishing with innovative ideas based on NASA’s pioneering work to explore space, including low-Earth orbit and the Moon,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations (HEO) in Washington. He suggested that, data from commercial lunar landers, like space station research, could aid the agency’s plans to explore an asteroid and Mars.
“New robotic commercial capabilities on the Moon could extend that research in important ways, just as NASA expertise could help advance commercial endeavors to reach the Moon.”
The HEO directorate is proposing no-exchange-of-funds partnerships under Space Act agreements or other mechanisms, offering its technical expertise, unique test facilities, and some hardware and software to private companies willing to put up funding for lander development.
“NASA envisions that an integrated team comprised of NASA civil servants and the industry partner personnel could work together to design, develop and test landers,” the RFI says.
Responses to the RFI are due Aug. 2. Interest in private lunar landers has soared over the past three years after Google offered $30 million in prizes through the X Prize Foundation to teams that can land a robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface, have it move at least 500 meters, and send back video, images and data. Presently 22 teams worldwide are in the running, working against a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015.