For years, NASA dominated and controlled most of the space activities, becoming the first agency to send a crewed mission to the Moon. But, the space industry is now open to private space companies. Although NASA is working with private companies for some of its projects, the competition for NASA contracts has seen companies invest their resources to achieve their ambitions. Who are investors behind these private space companies, and how will they benefit by traveling to the Moon?
NASA no longer receives the massive funding from the federal government as it used to. The low financing and accusation of wasteful spending forced the state agency to change its approach to project management. Now, NASA no longer funds projects whose variable cost could rise exponentially. Instead, it offers development funds and orders to private space companies at a fixed price. These companies are the ones who arrange the contract and commit to meeting any extra cost incurred.
NASA has a long-term plan of sending its crew to Mars. But, this ambitious plan is divided into several stages, including crewed missions back to the surface of the Moon in 2024. However, before the crew could land on the Moon, the space agency plans to send an uncrewed mission to test technology and conduct scientific experiments. It will contract private space companies for the Commercial Lunar Payload Service program, which will see these companies deliver cargo on the Moon. The first delivery is planned for July 2021. NASA intends to contract nine companies, and these are OrbitBeyond, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Deep Space Systems, Astrobotic Technology, and Draper Laboratory.
The first three NASA contracts went to Intuitive Machines, Astrobotic, and OrbitBeyond. However, OrbitBeyond pulled out of the deal citing internal problems. Astrobotic will deliver NASA’s 14 instruments to the Moon in a contract worth $79.5 million. It will launch its Peregrine lander aboard Atlas V launch vehicle in June 2021, with the landing on the Moon set for July 2021. Intuitive Machine delivers four scientific devices using Nova-C landing aboard Falcon 9 in a contract worth $77 million, with the launch set for July 2021.
Firefly Aerospace, owned by Max Polyakov, intends to use Beresheet Spacecraft by Israeli Aerospace Industries as a basis for designing a new device called Genesis. However, the details of Genesis and the expected launch date are still not known. Firefly is preparing to launch Fire Alpha in 2020 but could delay the launch because of the pandemic. Masten Space Systems’ contract with NASA will be $75.9 million and will see the space company deliver nine instruments to the Moon. Other companies that NASA intends to work with are Ceres Robotics, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX, and Tyvak Nano-Satellite