NASA wants to enlist private companies to build hardware that can gather lunar surface samples and prepare them for return to Earth at a later date.
While NASA is working aggressively to meet our near-term goal of landing the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, our Artemis program also is focused on taking steps that will establish a safe and sustainable lunar exploration architecture.
NASA is taking a critical step forward by releasing a solicitation for commercial companies to provide proposals for the collection of space resources.
To meet NASA’s requirements, a company will collect a small amount of Moon “dirt” or rocks from any location on the lunar surface, provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material, along with data that identifies the collection location, and conduct an “in-place” transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith or rocks to NASA. After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for our use.
NASA’s goal is that the retrieval and transfer of ownership will be completed before 2024. The solicitation creates a full and open competition, not limited to U.S. companies, and the agency may make one or more awards. The agency will determine retrieval methods for the transferred lunar regolith at a later date.
Over the next decade, the Artemis program will lay the foundation for a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface and use the Moon to validate deep space systems and operations before embarking on the much farther voyage to Mars. The ability to conduct in-situ resources utilization (ISRU) will be incredibly important on Mars, which is why we must develop techniques and gain experience with ISRU on the surface of the Moon.