CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) Program
As of 2018, NASA is returning to the Moon with commercial and international partners as part of an overall agency Exploration Campaign in support of Space Policy Directive 1. It all starts with robotic missions on the lunar surface, as well as a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway for astronauts in space beyond the Moon. Right now, NASA is preparing to purchase new small lunar payload delivery services, develop lunar landers, and conduct more research on the Moon’s surface ahead of a human return. And that long-term exploration and development of the Moon will give us the experience for the next giant leap – human missions to Mars and destinations beyond. 1)
The agency released a draft Request for Proposals April 27, encouraging the U.S. commercial space industry to introduce new technologies to deliver payloads to the Moon. This request for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) will further expand efforts to support development and partnership opportunities on the lunar surface. Using these services, the agency will accelerate a robotic return to Moon, with upcoming missions targeted for two to three years earlier than previously planned. NASA intends to award multiple contracts for these services through the next decade, with contract missions to the lunar surface expected to begin as early as 2019, and with a company’s first delivery no later than Dec. 31, 2021.
NASA’s expanding Moon strategy seeks to harness the innovation of American space companies to build new lunar landers. This solicitation for payload delivery services is a sign of NASA’s ongoing confidence in U.S. industries’ abilities to meet needs for delivery services in space. These early deliveries to the lunar surface will support stronger scientific and exploration mission activities for NASA, and empower commercial industry to show the agency what they have to offer.
NASA’s expanding Moon strategy seeks to harness the innovation of American space companies to build new lunar landers. This solicitation for payload delivery services is a sign of NASA’s ongoing confidence in U.S. industries’ abilities to meet needs for delivery services in space. These early deliveries to the lunar surface will support stronger scientific and exploration mission activities for NASA, and empower commercial industry to show the agency what they have to offer.
“We’ll draw on the interests and capabilities of U.S. industry and international partners as American innovation leads astronauts back to the Moon and to destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Our successful investments with a strong and continually growing U.S. space industry in low-Earth orbit allows us to focus on lunar activities. We’ll leverage commercial capabilities for these small payload deliveries, and CLPS missions will play an important role in our expanding and sustainable lunar exploration strategy.”
NASA has identified a variety of exploration, science, and technology objectives that could be addressed by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon. Some of those payloads will be developed from the agency’s Resource Prospector mission concept. This project was intended as a one-time effort to explore a specific location on the Moon, and as designed, now is too limited in scope for the agency’s expanded lunar exploration focus. NASA’s return to the Moon will include many missions to locate, extract and process elements across bigger areas of the lunar surface. The agency is evolving Resource Prospector to fit into its broader exploration strategy, and selected robotic instruments will be among the early deliveries to the Moon on CLPS missions.
Simultaneously, the agency is asking U.S. industry how to best progressively advance lander capabilities through its Lunar Surface Transportation Capability request for information, which closed April 30. NASA is assessing commercial interest in lander development to help mature plans for two upcoming landers built through public/private partnerships.
NASA will review responses to the transportation capability request for information, and use the information for development of a minimum 1,100 pound (500 kg) lander, which is targeted to launch in 2022. The agency’s two mid-size lander demonstration missions will help NASA understand the requirements and systems needed for a human class lander. The ongoing small payload delivery missions will provide important data on landing precision, long-term survivability, guidance and navigation for future landers.
These landers will be capable of sample return, resource prospecting, demonstrating use of in-space resources, and this will reduce the risk when building landers for humans.
Discussions on how to use the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway for scientific activity are expected to continue. Robotically collecting lunar samples for investigation aboard the gateway or safekeeping until they can be returned to Earth were among the suggestions discussed at a science workshop hosted by NASA.
“It is critical that America leads this sustained presence with commercial and international partners on and around the Moon. And this integrated effort will support returning astronauts to the Moon as called for by Space Policy Directive 1,” said Bridenstine.
CLPS Instruments for the Moon Mission
• April 8, 2020: NASA has selected Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to deliver and operate eight payloads – with nine science and technology instruments – to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024. 2)
NASA has selected Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to deliver and operate eight payloads – with nine science and technology instruments – to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024.
Figure 1: Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022 (image credit: Masten Space Systems)
The payloads, which include instruments to assess the composition of the lunar surface, test precision landing technologies, and evaluate the radiation on the Moon, are being delivered under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative as part of the agency’s Artemis program.
As the country and the world face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA is leveraging virtual presence and communications tools to safely make progress on these important lunar exploration activities, and to award this lunar surface delivery as it was scheduled prior to the pandemic.
“Under our Artemis program, we are going to the Moon with all of America,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Commercial industry is critical to making our vision for lunar exploration a reality. The science and technology we are sending to the lunar surface ahead of our crewed missions will help us understand the lunar environment better than we ever have before. These CLPS deliveries are on the cutting edge of our work to do great science and support human exploration of the Moon. I’m happy to welcome another of our innovative companies to the group that is ready to start taking our payloads to the Moon as soon as possible.”
The $75.9 million award includes end-to-end services for delivery of the instruments, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon’s surface, and operation for at least 12 days. Masten Space Systems will land these payloads on the Moon with its XL-1 lander.
“The Moon provides great scientific value, and these payloads will advance what we know and help define and improve the science astronauts can do,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD). “Our commercial Moon delivery efforts are seeking to demonstrate how frequent and affordable access to the lunar surface benefits both science and exploration.”
The payloads that will be delivered have been developed predominantly from the two recent NASA Provided Lunar Payloads (NPLP) and Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads (LSITP) solicitations.
The nine instruments to be delivered are:
• Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS) will deploy a radiometer – a device that measures infrared wavelengths of light – to explore the Moon's surface composition, map its surface temperature distribution, and demonstrate the instrument's feasibility for future lunar resource utilization activities.
• Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS) is a sensor that will measure the radiation environment on the Moon’s surface. The payload also is being flown on a CLPS flight to the Moon in 2021.
• Heimdall is a flexible camera system for conducting lunar science on commercial vehicles. This innovation includes a single digital video recorder and four cameras: a wide-angle descent imager, a narrow-angle regolith imager, and two wide-angle panoramic imagers. This camera system is intended to model the properties of the Moon's regolith – the soil and other material that make up the top layer of the lunar surface – and characterize and map geologic features. Other goals for this instrument include characterizing potential landing or trafficability hazards.
• MoonRanger is a small robotic rover that weighs less than 30 pounds and will demonstrate communications and mapping technologies. It will demonstrate the ability to move quickly across long distances on the lunar surface with autonomous navigation and without the ability to communicate with Earth in real time. It is a technology that could enable exploration of destinations that are far from lunar landing sites. The MoonRanger will carry the Neutron Spectrometer System, which will measure the concentration of hydrogen in the Moon’s regolith – a possible indication of the existence of buried water.
• Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo) is a device to measure potentially accessible resources on the Moon’s surface. It will identify gases coming off a lander during touchdown on the lunar surface to help scientists understand what elements are coming from the lunar surface and which ones are introduced by a lander itself.
• Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System (NIRVSS) is a tool to measure surface composition and temperature. The instrument will characterize the variability of the lunar soils and detect volatiles such as methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and water.
• Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) is a series of eight small mirrors to measure distance and support landing accuracy. It requires no power or communications from the lander and can be detected by future spacecraft orbiting or landing on the Moon.
• Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering, and Probing of Lunar Regolith (SAMPLR) is a robotic arm that will collect samples of lunar regolith and demonstrate the use of a robotic scoop that can filter and isolate particles of different sizes. The sampling technology makes use of a flight spare from the Mars Exploration Rover project.
NASA has contracted with 14 American companies to deliver science and technology to the lunar surface through competed task orders. The agency plans to issue at least two such task orders per year through which the companies can propose to take payloads to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, early commercial deliveries of payloads to the lunar surface missions enable NASA to perform science experiments, test technologies and demonstrate capabilities to further explore the Moon and prepare for human missions.
“I am very pleased to award our next delivery service task order to Masten Space Systems,” said Steven Clarke, deputy associate administrator for exploration in SMD. “With the first delivery in 2022, we are continuing to execute our strategy of providing two delivery opportunities per year of science investigations and technology demonstration payloads to the lunar surface.”
In May 2019, NASA selected two CLPS providers, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, who are each making progress toward sending payloads to the Moon next year. In February, NASA asked the 14 companies to provide proposals to fly the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which will be the first rover on the Moon that will look for and map the distribution of water and other important volatiles at one of the lunar poles. In addition to these deliveries and the delivery to be made by Masten Space Systems, payloads for a fifth lunar delivery are in development, and NASA will soon be initiating a new series of payload acquisitions for targeted science investigations for years to come.
CLPS Providers (in reverse order)
• February 4, 2021: NASA has awarded Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas, approximately $93.3 million to deliver a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023. The delivery, planned for Mare Crisium, a low-lying basin on the Moon’s near side, will investigate a variety of lunar surface conditions and resources. Such investigations will help prepare for human missions to the lunar surface. 3)
- The award is part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, in which NASA is securing the service of commercial partners to quickly land science and technology payloads on the lunar surface. The initiative is a key part of NASA’s Artemis program. Firefly Aerospace will be responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon, and mission operations. This is the sixth award for lunar surface delivery under the CLPS initiative.
- “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.”
- This is the first delivery awarded to Firefly Aerospace, which will provide the lunar delivery service using its Blue Ghost lander, which the company designed and developed at its Cedar Park facility. This facility also will house the integration of NASA and any non-NASA payloads, and also will serve as the company’s mission operations center for the 2023 delivery.
- “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.
- Mare Crisium, where Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost will land, is a more than 300-mile-wide basin where instruments will gather data to provide insight into the Moon’s regolith – loose, fragmented rock and soil – properties, geophysical characteristics, and the interaction of solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field.
The payloads, collectively expected to total 207 pounds (94 kg) in mass, include:
1) The Regolith Adherence Characterization (RAC), which will determine how lunar regolith sticks to a range of materials exposed to the Moon's environment during landing and lander operations. Components will be derived from the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) facility currently on the International Space Station.
2) The Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR), which will serve as a target for lasers on Earth to precisely measure the distance between Earth and the Moon. The retroreflector that will fly on this mission also will provide data that could be used to understand various aspects of the lunar interior and address fundamental physics questions.
3) The Lunar Environment Heliospheric X-ray Imager (LEXI), which will capture images of the interaction of Earth's magnetosphere with the flow of charged particles from the Sun, called the solar wind.
4) The Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System (RadPC), which aims to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computing technology. Due to the Moon's lack of atmosphere and magnetic field, radiation from the Sun will be a challenge for electronics. This investigation also will characterize the radiation effects on the lunar surface.
5) The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder (LMS), which is designed to characterize the structure and composition of the Moon’s mantle by studying electric and magnetic fields. The investigation will make use of a flight-spare magnetometer, a device that measures magnetic fields, originally made for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft currently orbiting Mars.
6) The Lunar Instrumentation for Subsurface Thermal Exploration with Rapidity (LISTER), which is designed to measure heat flow from the interior of the Moon. The probe will attempt to drill 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) into the lunar regolith to investigate the Moon's thermal properties at different depths.
7) The Lunar PlanetVac (LPV), which is designed to acquire lunar regolith from the surface and transfer it to other instruments that would analyze the material or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth.
Figure 2: Illustration of Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost lander on the lunar surface. The lander will carry a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023 as part of NASA's CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative (image credit: Firefly Aerospace)
8) Stereo CAmeras for Lunar Plume Surface Studies (SCALPSS 1.1), which will capture video and still images of the area under the lander from when the engine plume first disturbs the lunar surface through engine shutdown. Long-focal-length cameras will determine the pre-landing surface topography. Photogrammetry will be used to reconstruct the changing surface during landing. Understanding the physics of rocket exhaust on the regolith, and the displacement of dust, gravel, and rocks is critical to understanding how to best avoid kicking up surface materials during the terminal phase of flight/landing on the Moon and other celestial bodies.
9) The Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS), which will generate a non-uniform electric field using varying high voltage on multiple electrodes. This traveling field, in turn, carries away the particles and has potential applications in thermal radiators, spacesuit fabrics, visors, camera lenses, solar panels, and many other technologies.
10) The Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), which is based on GPS. LuGRE will continue to extend the reach of GPS signals and, if successful, be the first to discern GPS signals at lunar distances.
- The CLPS initiative is a key part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration efforts. The science and technology payloads sent to the Moon’s surface as part of the initiative will help lay the foundation for human missions and a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface.
• February 3, 2021: NASA is working on various science instruments and technology experiments from the agency that will operate on the Moon once American companies on Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts deliver them to the lunar surface. Through CLPS flights, NASA is buying a complete commercial robotic lunar delivery service and does not provide launch services, own the lander or lead landing operations. 4)
- The agency has already purchased space on five upcoming commercial Moon missions and is expected to announce yet another task order award soon. The upcoming award keeps the agency on track for its goal of two CLPS deliveries per year as part of the Artemis program and will round out two deliveries per year 2021 through 2023.
- “We’re excited with the incredible progress we’ve already made with our CLPS initiative since its inception just two years ago, and its clear many other customers are eager to take advantage of these new lunar delivery services,” shared Chris Culbert, manager of the CLPS project. “Commercial companies are responsible for vetting any additional payloads and customers for their lander missions. NASA is just a customer like the others, which allows us to focus on the science ahead for the Artemis program.”
Flights this year
- Two commercial landers providing the first CLPS services for NASA will soon be kicking up dust on the Moon, one built by Astrobotic and the other Intuitive Machines. They are expected to deliver a combined total of 17 NASA payloads before the end of the year. Payload is a generic term to describe the many different instruments and experiments either attached directly to the lander itself or stowed safely in its trunk until a safe landing. The number of NASA payloads on a CLPS flight will vary depending on the agency’s science and technology objectives among other factors.
- Astrobotic and its Peregrine lander are set to ferry 11 NASA instruments and technology demonstrations to the surface to investigate the composition of lunar soil and a host of other environmental factors. Launching on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, Peregrine is targeting later this year to deliver the suite of payloads to Lacus Mortis, a crater on the near side of the Moon.
- NASA will deliver its suite of payloads to Astrobotic in the spring. Next, the payloads will be integrated with the lander structure. Once assembly is complete, the lander will undergo a battery of environmental tests before being shipped to Florida for integration with the launch vehicle.
- Intuitive Machines will fly its Nova-C lander to Oceanus Procellarum, the largest dark spot on the Moon. The company, which will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, is targeting the fourth quarter of 2021 for its lunar delivery. Six NASA instruments will be delivered to the company this spring to undergo final testing before integration with the lander, including a new navigation and guidance payload to assist with landing.
- NASA also added an additional instrument to fly on Nova-C last year, a new fuel gauging technology called Radio Frequency Mass Gauge. Accurately gauging liquid propellant quantity in a low- or zero-gravity environment is critical for spacecraft design and performance, but difficult because the liquid does not settle as it would on Earth. Results will help develop flight systems that could be used on future Artemis missions with crew.
Looking Ahead to 2022, Beyond
- Masten Space Systems is working to deliver eight instruments to the lunar surface in 2022 using its XL-1 lander, launched by a SpaceX rocket. NASA and Masten recently selected a landing site on the rim of Haworth Crater, where scientists believe permanently shadowed areas could contain ice near the surface and deeper in reservoirs. Landing just outside Haworth will provide enough solar power to the lander’s solar arrays, while giving the payload instruments access to the crater. The Haworth area is expected to have cold traps of water, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide, and other volatiles that could be resources for future human explorers and which will help scientists understand lunar evolution. Several instruments will help assess lunar surface composition and evaluate radiation levels. This summer, Masten will complete a required review of the lander, and NASA will continue to design and build agency payloads for the flight.
- Intuitive Machines will fly the agency’s PRIME-1 payload to the Moon next year, which is a precursor instrument to a future water mapping robot – the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover or VIPER - in development at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
- Astrobotic was selected last year to fly NASA’s VIPER rover to the Moon in late 2023 using its new Griffin lander. The company will deliver a mockup of the lander to the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in February for a series of test to ensure the rover and its lander will operate seamlessly together when on the Moon.
- The agency is also planning an upcoming announcement to select a provider to deliver a suite of 10 instruments to a non-polar region of the Moon in 2023. Additionally, NASA will announce instrument selections this year under the Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) solicitation for future CLPS flights followed by bidding to deliver them later.
- Future NASA payloads delivered to the Moon on CLPS flights could include other rovers, power sources, and science experiments, including the technology demonstrations to be infused into the Artemis program.
- The many science instruments and technology demonstrations that NASA will land on the Moon using the CLPS initiative, will pave the way for scientific research by the Artemis moon walkers,” said Joel Kearns, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
• February 25, 2020: NASA is asking its 14 Commercial Lunar Payload Services companies to bid on flying VIPER to the Moon by 2023. VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), is a golf-cart sized mobile robot that will look for water ice at one of the Moon’s poles. 5)
- During its mission, VIPER will roam several miles and use its four science instruments — including a 1-meter drill — to sample various soil environments. It will collect up to 100 days of data that will be used to inform the first global water resource maps of the Moon. VIPER will help NASA get a close-up view of the location and concentration of water ice that could eventually be harvested to sustain human exploration on the Moon, and help pave the way for astronaut missions to the Moon beginning in 2024. The ability to send payloads of varying sizes to the Moon is a key part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration efforts. NASA already has awarded two companies with missions to deliver science to the Moon in 2021, and issued a separate task order in early February for companies to bid on delivering eight additional science payloads in 2022.
- The Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative is leveraging the capabilities of commercial industry to send scientific instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon quickly. NASA expects to issue a regular series of task order proposal requests to expand the scope of agency payloads requiring transportation services to the lunar surface ahead of human landings. Future payloads could include other rovers, power sources, additional science experiments, or other equipment and technologies needed for astronaut expeditions on the lunar surface.
• November 18, 2019: NASA has added five American companies to the pool of vendors that will be eligible to bid on proposals to provide deliveries to the surface of the Moon through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. 6)
Figure 3: NASA has added five American companies — Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc. — to the pool of vendors that will be eligible to bid on proposals to provide deliveries to the surface of the Moon through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative (video credit: NASA)
- The additions, which increase the list of CLPS participants on contract to 14, expand NASA’s work with U.S. industry to build a strong marketplace to deliver payloads between Earth and the Moon and broaden the network of partnerships that will enable the first woman and next man to set foot on the Moon by 2024 as part of the agency’s Artemis program.
- “American aerospace companies of all sizes are joining the Artemis program,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Expanding the group of companies who are eligible to bid on sending payloads to the Moon’s surface drives innovation and reduces costs to NASA and American taxpayers. We anticipate opportunities to deliver a wide range of science and technology payloads to help make our vision for lunar exploration a reality and advance our goal of sending humans to explore Mars.”
The selected companies are:
- Blue Origin, Kent, Washington
- Ceres Robotics, Palo Alto, California
- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado
- SpaceX, Hawthorne, California
- Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc., Irvine, California
In July, NASA announced an opportunity for American companies to propose lunar landers that can deliver heavier payloads to the surface of the Moon. These five companies, together with nine companies selected in November 2018, now are eligible to bid on launch and delivery services to the lunar surface. NASA already has awarded contracts to two vendors to send as many as 14 science payloads to the Moon in 2021 and expects to issue additional payload delivery orders.
“The CLPS initiative was designed to leverage the expertise and innovation of private industry to get to the Moon quickly,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “As we build a steady cadence of deliveries, we’ll expand our ability to do new science on the lunar surface, develop new technologies, and support human exploration objectives.”
Future payloads could include rovers, power sources, science experiments – including the agency’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) – and technology demonstrations to be infused into the Artemis program. NASA expects to issue a regular series of task order proposal requests to expand the scope of agency payloads requiring transportation services to the lunar surface ahead of human landings.
“Buying rides to the Moon to conduct science investigations and test new technology systems, instead of owning the delivery systems, enables NASA to do much more, sooner and for less cost, while being one of many customers on our commercial partners’ landers,” said Steve Clarke, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The CLPS contracts are indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts with a combined maximum contract value of $2.6 billion through November 2028. The agency will look at a number of factors when comparing the bids from all vendors, such as technical feasibility, price and schedule.
• July 29, 2019: NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract was designed for quick access to the Moon with science and technology payloads delivered by commercial partners. Since the project began, NASA has selected nine companies that are eligible to bid on specific task orders based on NASA priorities. The agency also has announced 12 payloads consisting of science instruments developed around the country at NASA centers. Early this month NASA selected 12 additional instruments being developed by outside organizations that would help the agency return to the Moon and have broader applications to Mars and beyond. Those payloads have not yet been assigned flights. 7)
- “We know that CLPS missions are going to be challenging for various reasons, and they may not always succeed,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We’re willing to accept some risk in order to get back to the Moon quickly, with commercial partners, and do exciting science and technology development with broad applications.”
- While the first three companies selected to carry payloads to the Moon were announced in May, one of them, Orbit Beyond, Inc., has informed NASA of internal corporate challenges that will prevent the timely completion of its awarded task order. As a result, Orbit Beyond requested to be released from the task order agreement. NASA made a contract administration decision to comply with OBI’s request and, as a result, terminated the task order effective July 28, 2019 on terms mutually agreeable to both parties. Orbit Beyond remains a CLPS contract awardee and may be eligible to compete for future CLPS opportunities.
- NASA’s selections of the two other vendors (Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines) are not impacted by this decision. NASA is still on track to having our first science payloads delivered to the lunar surface in 2021. Astrobiotic has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021. Intuitive Machines has proposed to fly as many as five payloads for NASA to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021.
- The CLPS program continues to formulate additional requests for task order proposals to expand the scope of NASA payloads requiring transportation services to the lunar surface in advance of human return. CLPS remains strong and the project includes diverse partners helping NASA to get to the lunar surface quickly and efficiently.
• May 31, 2019: NASA has selected three commercial Moon landing service providers that will deliver science and technology payloads under CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) as part of the Artemis program. Each commercial lander will carry NASA-provided payloads that will conduct science investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies on the lunar surface, paving the way for NASA astronauts to land on the lunar surface by 2024. 8)
- “Our selection of these U.S. commercial landing service providers represents America’s return to the Moon’s surface for the first time in decades, and it’s a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. ”Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years. Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”
- As part of their submissions, each partner proposed flying specific NASA instruments to the lunar surface. By the end of the summer, NASA will determine which payloads will fly on each flight. The potential payloads include instruments that will conduct new lunar science, pinpoint lander position, measure the lunar radiation environment, assess how lander and astronaut activity affects the Moon, and assist with navigation precision, among other capabilities.
The selections are:
a) Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has been awarded $79.5 million and has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021.
b) Intuitive Machines of Houston has been awarded $77 million. The company has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021.
c) Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has been awarded $97 million and has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters, by September 2020.
- “These landers are just the beginning of exciting commercial partnerships that will bring us closer to solving the many scientific mysteries of our Moon, our solar system, and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “What we learn will not only change our view of the universe, but also prepare our human missions to the Moon and eventually Mars.”
- Each partner is providing end-to-end commercial payload delivery services to NASA, including payload integration and operations, launch from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. These early missions will 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. They also will help prepare the agency to send astronauts to explore Mars.
- “This announcement starts a significant step in NASA's collaboration with our commercial partners,” said Chris Culbert, CLPS program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “NASA is committed to working with industry to enable the next round of lunar exploration. The companies we have selected represent a diverse community of exciting small American companies, each with their own unique, innovative approach to getting to the Moon. We look forward to working with them to have our payloads delivered and opening the door for returning humans to the Moon.”
- As additional science, technology demonstration, and human exploration requirements for payloads develop, a request for task order bids will go to all current CLPS contractors. All nine companies initially selected in November 2018 for CLPS will be eligible to bid on subsequent task orders.
- Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon within five years, NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed – landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 – while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. We will use what we learn on the Moon to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.
• February 21, 2019: NASA has selected 12 science and technology demonstration payloads to fly to the Moon as early as the end of this year, dependent upon the availability of commercial landers. These selections represent an early step toward the agency’s long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, later, Mars. 9)
- “The Moon has unique scientific value and the potential to yield resources, such as water and oxygen,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Its proximity to Earth makes it especially valuable as a proving ground for deeper space exploration.”
- NASA/SMD initiated the request for proposals leading to these selections as the first step in achieving a variety of science and technology objectives that could be met by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon.
- “This payload selection announcement is the exciting next step on our path to return to the surface of the Moon,” said Steve Clarke, SMD’s deputy associate administrator for Exploration at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The selected payloads, along with those that will be awarded through the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads call, will begin to build a healthy pipeline of scientific investigations and technology development payloads that we can fly to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial landing delivery services. Future calls for payloads are planned to be released each year for additional opportunities,” he said.
Table 1: The selected payloads include a variety of scientific instruments
- NASA facilities across the nation are developing the payloads, including Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; Johnson Space Center in Houston; Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
- Nine U.S. companies, selected through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) in November 2018, currently are developing landers to deliver NASA payloads to the Moon’s surface. As CLPS providers, they are pre-authorized to compete on individual delivery orders.
- NASA also released the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payload (LSITP) call in October 2018 soliciting proposals for science instrument and technology investigations. The final LSITP proposals are due Feb. 27 and awards are expected to be made this spring.
- “Once we have awarded the first CLPS mission task order later this spring, we will then select the specific payloads from the internal-NASA and LSITP calls to fly on that mission. Subsequent missions will fly other NASA instrument and technology development packages in addition to commercial payloads,” said Clarke.
- Commercial lunar payload delivery services for small payloads, and developing lunar landers for large payloads, to conduct more research on the Moon’s surface is a vital step ahead of a human return.
- As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA has announced plans to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface by 2028.
• November 29, 2018: Nine U.S. companies now are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts, as one of the first steps toward long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars. 10)
- These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be one of many customers that will use these commercial landing services.
- “Today’s announcement marks tangible progress in America’s return to the Moon’s surface to stay,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The innovation of America’s aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars.”
The selected companies are:
- Astrobotic Technology, Inc.: Pittsburgh
- Deep Space Systems: Littleton, Colorado
- Draper: Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Firefly Aerospace, Inc.: Cedar Park, Texas
- Intuitive Machines, LLC: Houston
- Lockheed Martin Space: Littleton, Colorado
- Masten Space Systems, Inc.: Mojave, California
- Moon Express: Cape Canaveral, Florida
- Orbit Beyond: Edison, New Jersey
- NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) initiated the request for proposals leading to these selections as the first step in achieving a variety of science and technology objectives that could be addressed by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon. SMD serves as the NASA interface between the agency’s mission directorates, the scientific community, and other external stakeholders in developing a strategy to enable an integrated approach for robotic and human exploration within NASA’s Moon to Mars Exploration Campaign.
- The Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts are indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts with a combined maximum contract value of $2.6 billion during the next 10 years. The agency will look at a number of factors when comparing the bids, such as technical feasibility, price and schedule.
- Lunar payloads could fly on these contracted missions as early as 2019. In October, NASA issued a call for potential lunar instruments and technologies to study the Moon, with proposals due in January. These early missions will 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, and help prepare the agency to send astronauts to explore Mars.
- NASA will re-examine the private market periodically for new and emerging lunar delivery capabilities, and may offer additional companies an opportunity to join Commercial Lunar Payload Services through a contract process called on-ramping.
• June 10, 2021: The payloads, including one from JPL, mark the agency’s first selections from its Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) call for proposals. 11)
- As NASA continues plans for multiple commercial deliveries to the Moon’s surface per year, the agency has selected three new scientific investigation payload suites to advance understanding of Earth’s nearest neighbor. Two of the payload suites will land on the far side of the Moon, a first for NASA. All three investigations will receive rides to the lunar surface as part of NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative, part of the agency’s Artemis approach.
- The payloads mark the agency’s first selections from its Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) call for proposals.
Figure 4: NASA selects new science investigations for future moon deliveries (image credit: NASA)
- Lunar Vertex, one of the three selections, is a joint lander and rover payload suite slated for delivery to Reiner Gamma – one of the most distinctive and enigmatic natural features on the Moon, known as a lunar swirl. Scientists don’t fully understand what lunar swirls are or how they form, but they know they are closely related to anomalies associated with the Moon’s magnetic field. The Lunar Vertex rover will make detailed surface measurements of the Moon’s magnetic field using an onboard magnetometer. Lunar surface magnetic field data the rover collects will enhance data the spacecraft collects in orbit around the Moon and help scientists better understand how these mysterious lunar swirls form and evolve, as well as provide further insight into the Moon’s interior and core. Dr. David Blewett of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory leads this payload suite.
- NASA also has selected two separate payload suites for delivery in tandem to the Schrödinger basin, which is a large impact crater on the far side of the Moon near the lunar South Pole. The FSS (Farside Seismic Suite), one of the two payloads to be delivered to the Schrödinger basin, will carry two seismometers: the vertical Very Broadband seismometer and the Short Period sensor. NASA measured seismic activity on the near side of the Moon as part of the Apollo program, but FSS will return the agency’s first seismic data from the far side of the Moon—a potential future destination for Artemis astronauts. This new data could help scientists better understand tectonic activity on the far side of the Moon, reveal how often the lunar far side is impacted by small meteorites, and provide new constraints on the internal structure of the Moon. FSS will continue taking data for several months on the lunar surface beyond the lifetime of the lander. To survive the two-week long lunar nights, the FSS package will be self-sufficient with independent power, communications, and thermal control. Dr. Mark Panning of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California leads this payload suite.
- The LIMTS (Lunar Interior Temperature and Materials Suite), the other payload headed to Schrödinger basin, is a suite of two instruments: the Lunar Instrumentation for Thermal Exploration with Rapidity pneumatic drill and the Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder. This payload suite will investigate the heat flow and electrical conductivity of the lunar interior in Schrödinger basin, giving an in-depth look at the Moon’s internal mechanical and heat flow. LITMS data also will complement seismic data acquired by the FSS to provide a more complete picture of the near- and deep-subsurface of the far side of the Moon. Dr. Robert Grimm of the Southwest Research Institute leads this payload suite.
- While these selections are final, negotiations are continuing for each award amount.
- “These investigations demonstrate the power of CLPS to deliver big science in small packages, providing access to the lunar surface to address high priority science goals for the Moon,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. “When scientists analyze these new data alongside lunar samples returned from Apollo and data from our many orbital missions, they will advance our knowledge of the lunar surface and interior, and increase our understanding of crucial phenomenon such as space weathering to inform future crewed missions to the Moon and beyond.”
- With these selections in place, NASA will work with the CLPS office at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to issue task orders to deliver these payload suites to the Moon in the 2024 timeframe.
- For these payload suites, the agency also has selected two project scientists to coordinate science activities including selecting landing sites, developing concepts of operations, and archiving science data acquired during surface operations. Dr. Heidi Haviland of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will coordinate the suite slated for delivery to Reiner Gamma, and Dr. Brent Garry of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will coordinate payload deliveries to Schrödinger basin.
- CLPS is a key part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration efforts. The science and technology payloads sent to the Moon’s surface as part of CLPS, will help lay the foundation for human missions and a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface. The agency has made six task order awards to CLPS providers for lunar deliveries between late 2021-2023, with more delivery awards expected at least through 2028.
• March 25, 2021: The iconic Parkes radio telescope, owned and operated by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, will help businesses to literally reach for the Moon by providing ground station support for one of the first commercial lunar landings later this year. 12)
- CSIRO has signed a new five-year agreement with Houston-based aerospace company Intuitive Machines to support multiple lunar missions, including their first flight under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
- The Parkes telescope, also known as Murriyang, is valuable for spacecraft tracking due to its large dish surface and advanced data acquisition systems, which are used primarily for astronomy research.
- The 64-meter telescope will be the largest and most sensitive receiving ground station for Intuitive Machines’ upcoming missions, maximizing the return of the scientific and engineering data for the lunar exploration program.
- CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said the partnership was an exciting new chapter for the iconic Dish, with the partnership tapping into CSIRO’s expertise and proven track record supporting spacecraft programs.
- Intuitive Machines will launch its Nova-C Moon lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket towards the end of 2021, delivering commercial cargo and five NASA experiments to investigate the local geography and test technology required for future human exploration.
- CLPS initiative companies are responsible for all aspects of delivering their cargo to the Moon, including spacecraft tracking and communication.
- NASA urged CLPS providers to utilize ground station capabilities outside of NASA’s Deep Space Network, the ground station network supporting the Agency’s many interplanetary space missions.
- Intuitive Machines Vice President for Control Centers Dr Troy LeBlanc said being the first commercial company to land on the Moon is a huge communications challenge.
- “We require the technical support and expertise of the team at CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope to provide mission tracking and data downlink services," Dr LeBlanc said.
- “CSIRO’s Parkes telescope adds significant data downlink capability to Intuitive Machines’ robust Lunar Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network.
- “The successful use of the Network for these initial missions will underpin the return of humans to the Moon and ultimately sustainable presence under the Artemis program.”
Development challenges - the public is invited
• April 9, 2020: A new JPL-led challenge is seeking ideas for scientific instruments that could fit inside a tiny payload no bigger than a bar of soap. 13)
- Future exploration of the Moon and beyond will require tools of all shapes and sizes - from sweeping orbiters to the tiniest of rovers. In addition to current planned scientific rovers like the VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), NASA could one day send even smaller rovers to help scout the Moon's surface. These tiny robots would provide mission flexibility and collect key information about the lunar surface, its resources and the environment. The data collected by these rovers would be helpful for future lunar endeavors and NASA's Artemis program.
- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California is running a public prize competition to design miniaturized payloads for future Moon missions. The "Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload" challenge is seeking instrument designs that could help support a sustained human lunar presence, demonstrate and advance the use of resources found on the Moon, and enable new science.
Figure 5: The JPL-led challenge is seeking tiny payloads no larger than a bar of soap for a miniaturized Moon rover (image credit: NASA)
- Existing payloads are often big, heavy and require a lot of power. The payload designs sought for this challenge are required to be similar in size to that of a bar of soap at a maximum of 100 x 100 x 50 mm with a mass of no more than 0.4 kg.
- "Smaller payloads are game changing," said Sabah Bux, a JPL technologist. "They will allow us to develop technologies to do more prospecting and science on smaller, more mobile platforms."
- This ideation challenge is expected to be followed by new competitions to prototype, test and deliver the miniaturized payloads. The competition is intended to generate a maturation pipeline of next-generation instruments, sensors, technologies and experiments for near-term lunar exploration.
- Participants will have an opportunity to win a share of $160,000 in prizes across several categories. JPL is working with the NASA Tournament Lab to execute the challenge on the heroX crowdsourcing platform. Submissions will be accepted through June 1, 2020.
- For more information about the challenge and how to enter, visit: https://www.herox.com/NASApayload
- The challenge is funded by NASA's Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative within the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). The initiative champions technologies needed to live on and explore the Moon. NASA Tournament Lab, part of STMD's Prizes and Challenges program, manages the challenge. The program supports the use of public competitions and crowdsourcing as tools to advance NASA R&D and other mission needs.
- Learn more about opportunities to participate in your space program via NASA prizes and challenges: www.nasa.gov/solve
- Artemis includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap - sending astronauts to Mars.
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).