NASA understands that the future of space exploration now means partnering with private companies. Not only has the agency signed large contracts with both Space X and Orbital Sciences to carry supplies (and eventually people) to the International Space Station, but it is also putting out a call for privately companies to get involved with the next missions to the Moon by designing and developing the next generation of robotic lunar landers.
The new program, called Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST), seeks out any interested parties that have great ideas for future lunar exploration. In return, NASA will provide its expertise, equipment, and facilities to assist future lunar lander projects. It’s a great solution for the agency, considering its ever-shrinking budget (NASA won’t supply funds for the project), and it will also give a big push for commercial space projects in the future.
NASA is planning to use Lunar CATALYST for new missions to the Moon. The idea is to get these robotic vehicles on the Moon’s surface to not only study it, but to also mine water. However, the concepts could also apply to future exploration farther away, like Mars. NASA is already working with Canada and other countries to develop a moon rover and lander, but it’s also interested in what’s available in the U.S. from potential commercial partners. Interested companies have until March 17th to submit their proposals.
NASA will also acquire whatever comes out of the Google X Prize competition, which is also seeking commercial robotic vehicles for lunar exploration. The competition requires entrants to not only send a robot to the moon, but to also move it over 1,600 feet and send data back to Earth by the end of 2015.