NASA will work with the private sector to fast-track exploration of the moon for crucial fuel and mineral resources, such as helium 3 and rare earth metals.
Private companies have submitted initial proposals for the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown program (CATALYST), with at least one private company expected to secure a contract to build moon-bound prospecting robots.
“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is releasing an announcement seeking proposals to partner in the development of reliable and cost-effective commercial robotic lunar lander capabilities that will enable the delivery of payloads to the lunar surface,” NASA said in a statement.
“Such capabilities could support commercial activities on the moon while enabling new science and exploration missions of interest to NASA and the larger scientific and academic communities.”
According to NASA, the proposed contract would be a “no funds exchanged” Space Agreement Act, which indicated that the US Government would not directly fund the program.
“NASA’s contribution to a partnership could include, at no cost to the partner, NASA civil servant technical expertise, access to NASA test facilities, the loaning of equipment, and software,” the agency announced.
Final proposals are due by 17 March, but NASA has not indicated when the winners would be announced. NASA already works with private service companies on the International Space Station, and faced with an increasingly pared-down budget, the
agency is looking for inventive ways to fund programs.
NASA has a US$17.6 billion budget for the 2014 fiscal year, with US$4.1 billion allocated to space exploration including the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System Flight Programs.
The NASA budget is significantly lower than other US governmental departments; reports estimate the Defence budget has been set at US$618 billion; Health and Human Services at US$78.3 billion; and Agriculture at US$21.5 billion.