NASA drops $93 million on lunar lander project as part of the agency’s plans to return to the moon

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A number of spacefaring nations have set their sights on the moon. The lunar environment presents myriad challenges and these payloads could help with future mission planning.

Image: Firefly

A 21st-century space race is heating up as spacefaring nations around the globe set their sights on the moon. As part of NASA’s Artemis program, the space agency plans to land a man and a woman on the lunar surface by 2024. On Thursday, NASA announced that it had selected Firefly Aerospace to deliver a number of payloads to the moon as part of the agency’s future lunar ambitions.

Overall, NASA awarded Firefly about $93 million and the selection is a pivotal part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative within the larger Artemis program, NASA said. Thursday’s announcement represents the initiative’s sixth lunar surface delivery system selected.

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“We’re excited another CLPS provider has won its first task order award. With this initiative, we seek to develop ways for new science and technology development utilizing a service-based model,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA headquarters in Washington.

“This allows U.S. vendors to not only demonstrate their ability to safely deliver payloads to our celestial neighbor, but also expand this capability for others who want to take advantage of this cutting-edge approach to explore the moon,” Zurbuchen continued.

Firefly’s lunar delivery system will be based around the company’s Blue Ghost lander, which will land in a lunar basin known as Mare Crisium. NASA explained that the facility where the craft was developed and designed “will house the integration of NASA and any non-NASA payloads” and function as Firefly’s operations hub for the delivery scheduled for 2023.

“The payloads we’re sending as part of this delivery service span across multiple areas, from investigating the lunar soil and testing a sample capture technology, to giving us information about the moon’s thermal properties and magnetic field,” said Chris Culbert, manager of the CLPS initiative at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

SEE: Mars 2020 Mission: NASA engineer discusses Martian entry, descent, and landing (TechRepublic)

NASA estimates the collective payloads will weigh 207 pounds and include the Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors, Lunar Environment Heliospheric X-ray Imager, the Lunar PlanetVac, and additional instruments. Other technologies will be used to assess “a radiation-tolerant computing technology,” study lunar magnetic fields, analyze the stickiness of lunar regolith, and more.

“The CLPS 19D mission represents the third pillar in Firefly’s plan to become America’s premier end-to-end space transportation company. With our Alpha launch vehicle providing launch services, and our Space Utility Vehicle (SUV) providing in-space mobility, Firefly is poised to ensure U.S. preeminence in the commercialization of cislunar space,” said its founder and CEO, Tom Markusic.

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