WASHINGTON - NASA announced Friday nine U.S. space companies chosen to bid on delivery services to the moon, including Draper Laboratory Inc., whose team includes Japanese lunar exploration startup ispace Inc.
NASA is soliciting proposals to deliver science and technology payloads, such as small rovers and instruments, to the lunar surface for eventual human exploration of the moon.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts to be awarded by NASA have a combined maximum value of $2.6 billion during the next 10 years. Lunar payloads could fly on these contracted missions as early as 2019, the space agency said.
The nine companies include Lockheed Martin Corp., Deep Space Systems Inc. and Moon Express Inc. The missions enable important technology demonstrations that will inform the development of future landers and other exploration systems needed for humans to return to the lunar surface, NASA said.
In the team of Draper Laboratory, which cooperated with NASA on the Apollo moon landings, ispace will act as the design agent for the lunar lander Artemis-7 and mission operations, as well as provide high-frequency ride-share opportunities.
“The selection (of the nine companies by NASA) marks an important turning point in the change of the initiative for lunar exploration from government-led to private-led,” ispace said in its Japanese press release. “We will increase our efforts to expand our living sphere into space.”
Ispace’s team Hakuto was one of the five finalists in the Google Lunar XPrize competition to send the first privately funded spacecraft to the moon, but the race ended in March as none of the five accomplished the goal before the deadline.
The space venture also said in September that it expects to launch a lunar module and rover in 2021.