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  • Will the Return to the Moon be Invitation Only?
    Posted by Jeffrey Manber 1:42 PM on Mar 09, 2009

    ESA launched its lunar program with an invitation for industry to propose experiments that can be carried on the lander it tentatively plans to set down on the Moon landing sometime after 2017. But it raises the question of just how coordinated we are, not only internationally, but across NASA programs as well. Read on to see what’s bothering me.

    Here's part of the ESA announcement:

    "In particular, ESA is interested in learning about technologies, instruments, techniques and experiments that could be accommodated on the Lunar Lander and are in keeping with the mission objectives:
    1. To advance European technological capabilities for future human exploration of the Moon.
    2. To characterise the lunar environment and potential in situ resources to identify their implications for future human exploration.
    3. To progress in the definition of tools, interfaces and operational techniques for surface exploration.
    4. To increase our understanding of the formation, history and evolution of the Moon.

    blog post photo

    These inputs will be used in the early design phases of the mission, in advance of a formal Announcement of Opportunity. In the Request for Information ESA specifically invites the participation of non-space companies. The period to comment ends Tuesday, April 14th."

    ESA's announcement also made mention of a second task area, which has me a bit worried. It concerns the Cargo Lander, which will involve the delivery of cargo and logistics to the lunar surface. According to ESA this task “was identified by both ESA and NASA as a possible European contribution to a future international program of lunar exploration and would take the form of a lunar Cargo Lander.”  

    I suppose it is good news that ESA and NASA are already carving out tasks for a lunar program, but what about the companies now being awarded commercial contracts by NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station? If SpaceX and Orbital Sciences spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create routine cargo delivery to low Earth orbit, why should we just throw that experience away and start again with ferrying cargo to the Moon? Is this something that should be “given” to a government agency? 

    It might make more sense to hold out options to ferry additional cargo beyond ISS to the companies that survive and prosper during the space station era, and not to award the service to newcomers, regardless of the nationality of the bidder.  

    We are at the beginning of the greatest international exploration program of all time: the return of humans to the Moon. Now is the time to ensure that a program is created that focuses not only on the safe delivery of hardware and the explorers, but a culture of doing business that reflects the economic efficiencies of modern international trade.

    Let open competition determine the lunar contracts, not political deal making. Otherwise we will have learned nothing from the billions spent on the International Space Station.

    Tags: OS99, Lunar, NASA, ESA, COTS, SPACEX, Orbital

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