By Laura Brady, NSS Legal Fellow
It has been over forty years since astronaut Eugene Cernan left the Moon and returned to Earth. Since then, the Moon has been absent of humanity, but not for long. With NASA’s Artemis Moon Program, humans once again have their sights on the Moon, and this time they plan to stay. The Artemis mission is twofold: to send the first female and next man to the Moon by 2024, and to create a long-term presence on the Moon by the end of the decade.
The Artemis Mission is well known for its compelling goal of returning to the Moon, but that may not be the most far-reaching aspect of the program. Historically, space travel has been a government-funded endeavor. The lack of competition limited innovation, and it came with a high price tag. This time around, NASA is going to have help—commercial help.
NASA plans to utilize commercial contracting in several elements of the program. The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) uses multiple commercial companies for payload delivery. As of May, the CLPS had contracts with 14 commercial companies. To further the Artemis Mission, NASA has already announced several payload assignments for 2021, 2022, and 2023. The payloads will aid in further exploration, research, and development of the Moon.
In April, NASA announced their selection of three commercial partners, Dynetics, SpaceX, and Blue Origin, to create Human Lunar Landers, the vehicles that will transport astronauts to the lunar surface. Only one of the partners will build the lander that will make humanities’ initial return to the Moon, but according to the National Space Society (NSS), the full development of multiple landers is key to providing the most innovative and reliable options for the program. Paying commercial partners to build multiple landers, while more costly upfront, will have long-term payoff.
Scientific research of space resource utilization plays a vital role in the Artemis Program. In a move that NSS “enthusiastically supports,” NASA is leveraging the commercial industry for the collection and retrieval of these resources. In a recent solicitation, “Purchase of Lunar Regolith and/or Rock Materials from contractor,” NASA called for bids for the retrieval of lunar surface materials. The contractor will provide the collected materials, data about the collection site, and imagery of the collection, which will become NASA’s sole property. Those awarded the contract will be tasked with collecting and transferring ownership of the resources to NASA before 2024.
Commercial contracts will have an exciting effect on our future in space. Our sustainable future in space relies on the technology and lower price points produced by a competitive market, as well as a thriving commercial space industry. The collaboration between NASA and the commercial industry is an essential step towards ensuring that future. And while the Moon is our immediate goal, it is only the beginning. If we get this right, our future in space is limitless.
More about Artemis can be found in the NSS Position Paper, The Artemis Moon Program.
More about the commercial retrieval of Moon Rock can be found in the NSS blog post Why NASA Wants to Buy More Moon Rocks.
About NSS Legal Fellow Laura Brady
Laura Brady is a third-year law student at the University of Mississippi School of Law, where she is part of the Space Law concentration program. Additionally, Laura has worked as a student editor for Air and Space Law Journal. She serves as secretary of the Ole Miss Air and Space Law Society, where she previously served as the philanthropy chairperson. She worked as a legal fellow for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and is currently a legal intern for NASA Kennedy Space Center. Laura is excited to share her passion for space as an NSS Legal Fellow.