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NASA selects three companies to provide lunar landers for its science instruments

Captalism in space: NASA today announced the selection of three new companies to provide the agency lunar landers on which to fly its science instruments to the Moon.

The companies chosen:

  • Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has been awarded $79.5 million and has proposed to fly as many as 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021.
  • Intuitive Machines of Houston has been awarded $77 million. The company has proposed to fly as many as five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically intriguing dark spot on the Moon, by July 2021.
  • Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey, has been awarded $97 million and has proposed to fly as many as four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters, by September 2020.

If successful as awarded, the cost for these spacecraft will be minuscule compared to what NASA normally spends for its own planetary probes.

These contract awards are puzzling however in one way. All three companies are relatively unknown. None competed in the Google Lunar X-Prize, as did the American company Moon Express, which at one time was thought to be very close to launching. That Moon Express is not one of the winners here is mysterious. The only explanation I can come up with is the lawsuit that Intuitive Machines won from Moon Express in January 2018. Maybe that suit killed Moon Express, and made Intuitive Machines the winner today.


Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


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  • A couple of quibbles with your descriptions… Oceanus Procellarum is a “dark spot” in the same way that the Pacific Ocean is a “pond”. Oceanus Procellarum is the largest of the Moon’s maria (flood basalt covered plains). Likewise, Mare Imbrium is properly an “impact basin” rather than a crater… again, one of the Moon’s dark regions or maria.

  • Bill Farrand: Those descriptions are not mine. I was actually cutting and pasting directly from the NASA press release. My eye was focused on the general locations, the amount of money, and the dates, so I didn’t notice the bad scientific descriptions of those locations.

    You need to speak to people at NASA about this. :)

  • Ian C.

    Astrobotic participated in the GLXP.

    And, Robert, you see why I say: “and then America wins.” iSpace (Japan) was funded with around $90M from the Japanese government and corporations and has booked two launches for 2020 (orbiter) and 2021 (lander), Israel did its (private) shot, India is aiming its (state) shot, the Chinese are there and will add more soon. Long time there’s silence in America, and then suddenly…

  • wodun

    This is good news. A few days ago I was worried that NASA would go with just a single provider because of the focus on Blue Moon and the decision to award Maxar the power supply for Gateway. Maybe they still will go with a single lander provider if the humanned part is being rushed.

    This is the important part about what NASA wants to do on the Moon. The chart Ars posted a week or so ago shows yearly robotic missions to the lunar surface. Missions like these should help winnow site selection for any eventual base or outpost as well as do some general research, test technology, and help build up the industry.

    Only time will tell and the administration has been moving slow on this. One can only hope that SLS goes the way of the dinosaur in the next year or two and that SH/S development proceeds without any major hiccups.

  • Dick Eagleson


    The administration has actually been moving as fast as it can on this. The whole CLPS program was conceived shortly after Bridenstine took office and cancelled the Lunar Resource Prospector mission, which, in typical NASA fashion, was proceeding, lethargically, to build a gold-plated lander that would take multiple instruments to a single place on the Moon by sometime in the mid-2020’s. Now, we’ll be seeing results from a bunch of landers at widely varied sites by that time for the same or less money. What has held up the works to this point, is that the lander firms themselves weren’t ready to go. At least three of them now seem able to be ready within the next year or so.

    I share your hopes, and your expected timeline, for the death of SLS. I think it will die of two causes:

    1) SLS will fail to be able to launch the EM-1 mission by the end of 2020 or even by 1Q 2021.

    2) SpaceX’s SHS will have been to Earth orbit and back at least once by the end of 2020.

    That should see SLS zeroed out, except for contract termination and other incidental wind-up expenses, in the proposed FY 2022 NASA budget with other Artemis-related stuff slated to get the reallocated money. Orion will likely survive for a time, but it may well be gone too by the time the first U.S. boots to touch lunar soil in more than 50 years are being laced up.

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