NASA has big plans to go back to the moon, and it wants private companies to help them get there.
On Thursday, NASA announced partnerships with nine companies that could fly small payloads to the lunar surface through contracts with the American space agency sometime in the relatively near future.
NASA plans to award about $2.6 billion over the course of 10 years that the companies can compete for.
The nine companies are:
Deep Space Systems
Lockheed Martin Space
Masten Space Systems
“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,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
The earliest these companies could fly their wares with NASA is 2019.
Proposals are due in January, and the agency expects these companies to put forward ideas for robotic missions that will help prove out technology that could put people on the moon sometime in the coming decades.
“The agency will look at a number of factors when comparing the bids, such as technical feasibility, price, and schedule,” NASA said in the statement.
NASA plans to create a sustainable moon mission that will lead to a human mission to Mars, and these Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts are a big part of it.
The space agency plans to work closely with these private companies and maybe more. That kind of public and private partnership is the future, according to NASA. And the agency has some experience with it.
NASA has also awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts to the International Space Station in the next year.
Both private companies built their own space systems under NASA’s guidance after the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
The agency hopes that this new program will help bring the U.S. back to the surface of the moon.