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NASA today announced that it has committed $2.6 billion over the next ten years to buy delivery services to the Moon for its unmanned scientific missions, provided from nine different private companies.
The companies selected — Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Orbit Beyond — cover a range of companies from the well established to new companies not yet proven. This announcement essentially permits them all to bid on providing NASA delivery services to the moon for small unmanned probes. The press release states that:
These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be one of many customers that will use these commercial landing services.
More information here. UPDATE: Doug Messier has published the press releases from most of the above companies, describing their individual projects, and I have added links to each.
The program appears modeled after NASA commercial cargo and crew programs, whereby the companies will own and control the orbiters, landers, and rovers they build, allowing them to market them to others for profit. It also appears designed to keep costs low, as did commercial cargo program. NASA is merely the customer.
This is good news. It suggests that the American space industry is continuing to transition away from big government programs, controlling everything, to a robust private industry that is in charge with the government merely one out of many customers.