NASA calls for commercial partners on robotic lunar lander initiative
With China successfully landing a robotic rover on the Moon, there’s been speculation in some circles as to whether or not a new space race between China and the United States will start soon. That’s as maybe, but if Space Race Mk II does happen, the American landing craft might be owned and operated by a private firm.
Lending strength to this argument is NASA's recent announcement of its Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative, which aims at kickstarting private development of commercial lunar transports through partnerships with the space agency.
NASA partnerships aren’t a new idea. In fact, in recent years it’s been the agency’s preferred way of getting around shrinking budgets or lack of government interest in various programs. The most prominent of these has been Commercial Crew Program (CCP), where NASA called on private industry to come up with a replacement for the Space Shuttle to carry crews and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
The result is the recent visits by the Dragon and Cygnus space freighters to the station, with more to follow as NASA concentrates on manned deep space missions.
With Lunar CATALYST, NASA is soliciting proposals from potential partners to develop a reliable and cost-effective commercial robotic lunar lander for carrying cargo to the lunar surface.
The idea is that these landers would be used for commercial purposes, such as mining helium-3, cryogenic manufacturing, solar power generation or spacecraft refueling, while helping out NASA and other researchers on scientific missions, such as sample returns, prospecting, and technology demonstrations.