NASA just bought the rights to four batches of future moon samples for the low, low price of $25,001.
The space agency inked deals with four companies that will collect lunar rock and dirt in the next few years and then sign the material over to NASA. The contracts are designed to get the ball rolling on the extraction, sale and use of off-Earth resources, which agency officials stress are key to extending humanity’s footprint into the final frontier.
“We think it’s very important to establish the precedent that private-sector entities can extract, can take these resources, and NASA can purchase and utilize them to fuel not only NASA’s activities but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development in exploration on the moon and then, eventually, to Mars,” Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, told reporters during a teleconference today (Dec. 3).
Related: NASA’s full plate of moon missions before astronauts can go
NASA has not yet made plans for the retrieval of the collected samples, and it’s unclear if the material will be brought to Earth, agency officials said. (NASA already has a lot of moon rocks here; the Apollo missions hauled home 842 lbs., or 342 kilograms, of lunar material between 1969 and 1972.)
The four companies, and their contract awards, are Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California ($15,000); ispace Europe of Luxembourg ($5,000); ispace Japan of Tokyo ($5,000); and Colorado-based Lunar Outpost ($1).
The funding is so low because NASA is paying solely for the collected material, without footing the bill for any of the companies’ development costs, agency officials said.
Masten, ispace Europe and Lunar Outpost all plan to collect their samples from the moon’s south polar region, where the three companies aim to land in 2023. Masten will use its XL-1 lander, ispace Europe will rely on its Hakuto-R lander and Lunar Outpost’s robot will apparently hitch a ride to the lunar surface aboard Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander, NASA officials said today.
Hakuto-R is also the lander of choice for ispace Japan, which will collect samples from Lacus Somniorum, a site on the northeastern near side of the moon, following a planned touchdown there in 2022.
Each set of snagged samples will weigh between 1.8 and 18 ounces (50 to 500 grams), according to a request for proposals that NASA released in September. The four companies will provide imagery of the samples, as well as data that identifies where it was collected.
“Subsequent to receiving such imagery and data, an ‘in-place’ transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith to NASA will take place,” agency officials wrote in a statement today. “After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the Artemis program.”
Artemis is NASA’s ambitious program of crewed lunar exploration, which aims to land