The CLPS missions would be the first association of this organization in the deep space. The first could fly as early as next year, and NASA expects to send two loads every year for the next ten years. It is still unclear what type of instruments NASA expects to send, although the first call for proposals should come out in the coming weeks or months.
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Most of the companies involved have never flown a spacecraft of such complexity and scale, and Bridenstine acknowledged that some of the CLPS missions probably do not achieve a "smooth" landing on the lunar surface.
"This is a venture capital venture," he told reporters. "At the end of the day the risk is high, but the profitability is also very high for a low investment."
"It's a great experiment," said Associate Administrator of Science Thomas Zurbuchen.
The relatively small and economical cargo loads delivered through the CLPS program would be followed by more traditional and middle-class missions, said Bridenstine, including a possible manned mission to the moon.
US President Donald Trump has sent the American astronauts shipping to the moon as the goal of their administration. Its Space Policy Directive 1, signed last December, directs NASA to collaborate with the private sector to return to the moon on the way to a long-term mission to Mars.
But there is no American spacecraft that has been brought to light by the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and 50 years ago NASA sent a robotic mission to the lunar surface. Earlier this year, NASA surprised scientists by canceling the Resource Prospector mission, the only American lunar operator currently under development.
However, the only natural satellite of Earth is being explored by other countries; The 4th and 5th China Changing missions, which would give a car to the moon, and return rock samples from the surface, are scheduled to launch next year. India and Israel are also planning to launch lunar llaners next year.
The lunar geometer of Notre Dame, Clive Neal, who is emeritus chairman of the independent lunar exploration group, was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of science within the framework of the CLPS program. Many researchers on the moon were disappointed by the cancellation of the Resource Prospector's mission: "I'm still," Neal said.
But it was encouraged by the possibility that associations with the aerospace industry could make the Moon more accessible. Zurbuchen said on Thursday that a mobile lunar laboratory remains one of NASA's targets for lunar exploration, although this mission will probably be developed through a more traditional process.
He also said that NASA hopes to be just one of several clients that provide loads for these business missions. Carpooling on the moon – perhaps with academics or another company – should reduce the cost, he said.
The CLPS announcement arrives as NASA conducts security exams from two of its main private partners, SpaceX and Boeing. Both companies have been hired to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, but have experienced mishaps and delays such as their work to develop their spacecraft. SpaceX, in particular, has drawn a scrutiny after Founder Elon Musk took a pot of marijuana and drinks whiskey. The company is not included among those selected for the CLPS eligibility.
The Washington Post
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