NASA's commercial spaceflight program has largely been a success for the agency. Both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have now performed successful resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS).
With commercial spaceflight a success, NASA is now moving ahead with more commercial space industry partnerships. The agency this week announced that it is now looking for companies that can ferry cargo to the moon.
NASA is taking proposals on "reliable and cost-effective commercial robotic lunar lander capabilities." These companies would have to deliver cargo to the moon's surface, though NASA will also allow "commercial activities" on the moon to take place as long as its scientific missions are not affected.
This new initiative is part of the NASA's current goals surrounding asteroid research and a manned mission to Mars. Resources on the moon such as water and oxygen could be used to support future space missions, including President's Obama's challenge to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
"In recent years, lunar orbiting missions, such as NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, have revealed evidence of water and other volatiles, but to understand the extent and accessibility of these resources, we need to reach the surface and explore up close," said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA. "Commercial lunar landing capabilities could help prospect for and utilize these resources."
The new lunar landers that NASA is envisioning would need to be able to collect lunar samples, deploy geophysical network assets, and search for resources. They would also need to land up to around 1,100 pounds of payload to "various lunar sites."
"As NASA pursues an ambitious plan for humans to explore an asteroid and Mars, U.S. industry will create opportunities for NASA to advance new technologies on the moon," said Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA. "Our strategic investments in the innovations of our commercial partners have brought about successful commercial resupply of the International Space Station, to be followed in the coming years by commercial crew. Lunar CATALYST will help us advance our goals to reach farther destinations."