NASA Buying Moon Dust For $1

The US space agency NASA awarded contracts to four companies on Thursday to collect lunar samples for $1 to $15,000, rock-bottom prices that are intended to set a precedent for future exploitation of space resources by the private sector.

“I think it’s kind of amazing that we can buy lunar regolith from four companies for a total of $25,001,” said Phil McAlister, director of NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Division.

The contracts are with Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado for $1; ispace Japan of Tokyo for $5,000; ispace Europe of Luxembourg for $5,000; and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California for $15,000.

The companies plan to carry out the collection during already scheduled unmanned missions to the Moon in 2022 and 2023.

The firms are to collect a small amount of lunar soil known as regolith from the Moon and to provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material.

Ownership of the lunar soil will then be transferred to NASA and it will become the “sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the Artemis program.”

Under the Artemis program, NASA plans to land a man and a woman on the Moon by 2024 and lay the groundwork for sustainable exploration and an eventual mission to Mars.

NASA has awarded contracts to four companies to collect lunar samples NASA has awarded contracts to four companies to collect lunar samples Photo: AFP / Laurent EMMANUEL

“The precedent is a very important part of what we’re doing today,” said Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations.

“We think it’s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract, can take these resources but NASA can purchase and utilize them to fuel not only NASA’s activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the Moon,” Gold said.

“We must learn to generate our own water, air and even fuel,” he said. “Living off the land will enable ambitious exploration activities that will result in awe inspiring science and unprecedented discoveries.”

Any lessons learned on the Moon would be crucial to an eventual mission to Mars.

“Human mission to Mars will be even more demanding and challenging than our lunar operations, which is why it’s so critical to learn from our experiences on the Moon and apply those lessons to Mars,” Gold said.

“We want to demonstrate explicitly that you can extract, you can utilize resources, and that we will be conducting those activities in full compliance with the Outer Space Treaty,” he said. “That’s the precedent that’s important. It’s important for America to lead, not just in technology, but in policy.”

The United States is seeking to establish a precedent because there is currently no international consensus on property rights in space and China and Russia have not reached an understanding with the United States on the subject.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is vague but it deems outer space to be “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation,

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Nasa to pay company $1 to collect moon rocks

© Getty Images

Nasa is paying a company $1 to collect moon rocks after it was accepted as a winning bidder.

On Thursday Colorado-based Lunar Outpost was awarded a contract to collect moon dirt for the US space agency.

It is one of three contracts awarded by Nasa under its low-cost lunar resource collection programme.

The other winning bidders were California-based Masten Space Systems and Tokyo-based ispace.

Nasa will be paying the companies for individual collections of lunar regolith, or moon soil, between 50g and 500g in weight.

“The companies will collect the samples and then provide us with visual evidence and other data that they’ve been collected,” a spokesman for Nasa said.

“The plan is for the mission to take place in 2023, but we are working with several different lander companies, which could result in an earlier launch date,” Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus told the BBC.

Lunar Outpost will be paid $1 for collecting moon rocks from the lunar South Pole.

The reason the fee is so low is because Lunar Outpost was already planning a trip to collect lunar material.

Mr Cyrus called it “a paradigm shift in the way society thinks about space exploration”.

The company is in talks with Blue Origin and several other companies that are working to fly to the moon.

Blue Origin is a space exploration firm set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Among the other winning bids, Japan’s ispace will be paid $5,000 for its proposed collection in 2022 on the Moon’s north-eastern near side.

“The nominal amount of even a dollar is an important precedent that Nasa is setting,” said Sinead O’Sullivan, a space expert.

“The innovation here is not of financial value but of creating business and legal norms of creating a market of buyers and sellers outside of Earth’s constraints,” she added.

The awards for the three companies will be paid in a three-step process. A total of 10% of the funds at the time of the award, 10% when the company launches its collection spacecraft, and 80% when Nasa verifies the company collected the material.

The space agency’s announcement on Thursday comes as China conducts its own lunar sample collection mission.

The Chinese Chang’e-5 lunar spacecraft is currently on its way back to Earth with samples from the moon.

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NASA will pay a company $1 to collect moon rocks

A photo of the moon taken by SpaceIL’s Beresheet spacecraft in orbit.


NASA will pay an amazingly low price – a dollar – to have a company make a single small collection of moon dirt on the agency’s behalf.

Colorado-based start-up Lunar Outpost bid $1 and won a NASA contract to complete a mission under the agency’s low-cost lunar resource collection program announced earlier this year.

NASA wants to pay companies for individual collections of lunar regolith, or Moon soil, between 50 grams and 500 grams. The agency explicitly outlined it is only paying companies to collect material and say where NASA can find it on the moon’s surface – not to develop the spacecraft or return the regolith to Earth.

Lunar Outpost is one of the three companies that NASA selected on Thursday as winning bidders. The other two winners were California-based Masten Space Systems, which proposed a $15,000 mission in 2023, and Tokyo-based ispace, which proposed a pair of $5,000 missions in 2022 and 2023.

“The companies will collect the samples and then provide us with visual evidence and other data that they’ve been collected, and then ownership will transfer and we will then collect those samples,” NASA acting associate administrator Mike Gold told reporters in a press conference. “The objective [of these collection missions] is twofold: There is important policy and precedent that’s being set, both relative to the utilization of space resources, and the expansion of the public and private partnerships  beyond Earth orbit to the moon.”

The agency asked for bids in the range of $15,000 to $25,000 each, with a maximum limit of $250,000. The awards for the three companies will be paid in a three step process: 10% of the funds at the time of the award, 10% when the company launches their collection spacecraft, and 80% when NASAA verifies the company collected the material.

“Is NASA going to cut a check for 10 cents [to Lunar Outpost]? The answer is yes,” NASA commercial spaceflight director Phil McAlister said.

McAlister explained that Lunar Outpost was able to bid $1 because the company was already planning to collect lunar material, so segregating some regolith for NASA “was in fact trivial.”

While NASA said Lunar Outpost will fly on a mission by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to the moon’s south pole in 2023, Blue Origin told CNBC that was inaccurate. Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus clarified, telling CNBC that his company is in talks with Blue Origin and several other companies that are working to fly to the moon.

“We are compatible with a variety of landers … [but] we have not made a final decision on any of these landers,” Cyrus said. “Blue Origin makes a hell of a space vehicle, there’s no doubt about, but we are not contractually obligated to use any one specific lander.”

The agency received 22 mission proposals from at least 16 companies, as some bid multiple times. While NASA declined to specify which companies submitted proposals that

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NASA says mysterious ‘mini-moon’ is actually a 1960s rocket booster


This photo from 1964 shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket. Space object 2020 SO is one of these.


Welcome back, Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster. We just got a new chapter in a bittersweet space saga that involves a fiery launch, a doomed moon mission and decades of space wanderings. 

A rocket booster NASA used to launch the Surveyor 2 lunar lander in 1966 has returned to us for a temporary spin as a mini-moon in orbit around Earth. When scientists spotted it in September, they named it 2020 SO. On Wednesday, NASA announced the strange object has been positively identified as the ’60s booster.

While the booster did its job admirably back in 1966, the lander didn’t survive a crash landing on the moon’s surface.   

The booster’s specific orbit around the sun tipped astronomers off that it probably wasn’t an asteroid, one of the many space rocks that zip around our cosmic neighborhood. Some sleuthing tracked the booster back to near Earth in 1966. 

Telescope observations have now revealed the stainless steel composition of 2020 SO. This cosmic detective work involved comparing spectrum data on the enigmatic object with data gathered on a known Centaur rocker booster that’s been floating around in space since 1971. It was a match. 

The object has attracted a lot of interest due to the mystery surrounding it and the fact that it was captured into an Earth orbit that makes it a cute little visiting mini-moon. The Virtual Telescope Project livestreamed 2020 SO when it came in close to Earth on Nov. 30.

The Centaur booster will stick around with us for a few months, but is expected to continue its space adventures back in orbit around the sun sometime in March 2021. At which point we can all say, “Goodnight, Centaur. Goodnight, mini-moon.”

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NASA will buy moon dirt from these 4 companies

NASA just bought the rights to four batches of future moon samples for the low, low price of $25,001.

a close up of the moon: An image of the near side of the moon based on data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

© Provided by Space
An image of the near side of the moon based on data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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.


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“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

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NASA agrees to purchase moon rocks for $1

Blue Moon cargo lander
An artist’s conception shows the uncrewed cargo version of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander. (Blue Origin Illustration)

NASA has selected four companies to collect material on the moon and store it up as the space agency’s property, for a total price of $25,001. And one deal stands out: a $1 purchase that may rely on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

Although this sounds like the sort of deal Amazon might have offered on Cyber Monday, neither Seattle-based Amazon nor Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin is directly involved in the purchase.

Instead, NASA accepted a $1 offer from Colorado-based Lunar Outpost, based on the expectation that the venture can set aside a sample for NASA when Blue Origin sends a robotic Blue Moon lander to the moon’s south polar region in 2023.

Previously: Blue Origin scientist fleshes out plan for 2023 cargo delivery to the moon

Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus told GeekWire that his company’s collection system could fly on any lander heading to the moon, and not necessarily on the Blue Moon lander. But in order to have the $1 deal accepted, Lunar Outpost had to give NASA adequate assurances that it could fly with Blue Origin.

In response to an email from GeekWire, Blue Origin sent a statement casting some doubt on those assurances. “We don’t have a contract with Lunar Resources,” Blue Origin said. “We would recommend that you check with NASA, as this is inaccurate.”

During a teleconference with reporters, Phil McAllister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said the risk to NASA will be minimal even if Lunar Outpost can’t follow through.

Only 10% of the purchase price has to be paid out initially. Another 10% would be paid when the sample collection system is launched, and the remaining 80% wouldn’t be due until the lunar samples are collected, set aside on the moon and officially transferred to NASA ownership.

That means NASA will be sending Lunar Outpost an initial payment of 10 cents. “Yes, the postage is going to be more than the check,” McAllister told reporters.

The other companies involved in NASA’s advance purchase of lunar material quoted higher prices. NASA accepted a $15,000 offer from California-based Masten Space Systems, which is already scheduled to send a lander to the moon’s south pole in 2022 under the terms of a $75.9 million NASA contract.

Offers from two of iSpace’s business units were also accepted. NASA agreed to a $5,000 purchase from Tokyo-based iSpace Japan, with collection and in-place ownership transfer scheduled for 2022. A similar deal for the same amount was struck with Luxembourg-based iSpace Europe for 2023.

Both of those deals depend on iSpace getting lunar landers to the moon in collaboration with industry partners.

McAllister said 22 proposals were submitted in response to NASA’s solicitation, by roughly 16 different companies. He said 14 of the proposals were rejected because they weren’t judged technically or financially doable. NASA chose the four lowest-priced proposals to hit a target purchase range

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NASA names companies that will mine moon

“You’d be surprised at what a dollar can buy you in space,” Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, said in a call with reporters.

But the modest financial incentives are not the driver of the program. Nor to a large extent is the actual lunar soil. NASA is only asking for small amounts—between 50 to 500 grams (or 1.7 ounces to about 17 ounces). While there would be scientific benefits to the mission, it’s really a technology development program, allowing companies to practice extracting resources from the lunar surface and then selling them.

It would also establish a legal precedent that would pave the way for companies to mine celestial bodies in an effort blessed by the United States government to help build a sustainable presence on the moon and elsewhere.

To do that, NASA says it needs its astronauts, like the western pioneers, to “live off the land,” using the resources in space instead of hauling them from Earth. The moon, for example, has plenty of water in the form of ice. That’s not only key to sustaining human life, but the hydrogen and oxygen in water could also be used as rocket fuel, making the moon a potential gas station in space that could help explorers reach further into the solar system.

Asteroids also have significant resources, particularly precious metals that could be used for in-space manufacturing. While the prospect of large mining and manufacturing facilities in orbit is still many years away, NASA wants to use the mining program as a small step toward that goal.

NASA is now trying to return astronauts to the moon under its Artemis program for the first time since 1972. Unlike its predecessor, Apollo, where the astronauts visited the lunar surface for a short while before coming home, the Artemis program would create a permanent presence on and around the moon.

“The ability to extract and utilize space resources is the key to achieving this objective of sustainability,” Gold said. “We must learn to generate our own water, air and even fuel. Living off the land will enable ambitious exploration activities that will result in awe-inspiring science and unprecedented discoveries.”

In 2015, then-President Obama signed a law that allowed private companies the right to own the resources they mined in space. Under the program announced Thursday, NASA said the materials would be transferred from the private companies to NASA.

The effort would not violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, NASA officials have said, which prohibits nations cannot claim sovereignty over a celestial body. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine previously likened the policy to the rules governing the seas.

“We do believe we can extract and utilize the resources of the moon, just as we can extract and utilize tuna from the ocean,” he said earlier this year.

As part of its lunar exploration mission, NASA has been working to get countries around the world to adopt what it calls the Artemis Accords, a legal framework that would

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NASA chooses 4 firms for first private lunar sample collection

ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 3 (UPI) — Four companies will collect moon rocks and dust on the lunar surface for NASA by 2023 in preparation for a human mission the following year, the space agency announced Thursday.

The missions would be the first time a private company has collected samples from another planetary body, and the first time ownership of an object would be transferred beyond Earth orbit, according to NASA.

The companies are Lunar Outpost, based near Denver; ispace Japan of Tokyo; Luxembourg-based ispace Europe and Masten Space Systems, of Mojave, Calif. All four are planning to fly equipment to the moon on missions already planned.

The sample missions are intended only to provide a “proof of concept” to show NASA how a private company would collect samples. The missions also will test a legal framework for turning over ownership of such samples on the moon, said Phil McAlister, the agency’s director of commercial spaceflight development.

NASA may never retrieve the samples once they are collected on the surface, McAlister said.

“It is to be determined how we will collect that material,” he said. “At this point, we don’t have plans for how we will take physical possession.”

NASA simply wanted to set a precedent for such collection of samples under the international Outer Space Treaty, which allows nations to extract resources on objects in space, but doesn’t allow claiming ownership of territory, said Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations.

“It’s very important that we resolve any legal or regulatory questions in advance, because we never want policy or regulation to slow down or hinder incredible innovations and developments that we’re seeing,” Gold said.

Gold said he didn’t have examples of such questions, but added that the process might reveal possible legal issues.

Lunar Outpost, founded in 2017, is an aerospace company that focuses on technology to enable an extended presence on the lunar surface. The company plans to get to the moon on the Blue Moon lander, a contender for NASA’s human lander program planned by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space firm, McAlister said.

Lunar Outpost, which has other contracts with NASA, requested the sample collection contract for just $1, according to NASA.

The contracts for ispace Japan, and its subsidiary ispace Europe, are for $5,000 each. They plan to ride on Japan’s planned Hakuto-R lunar lander.

Masten will get to the moon on its own Masten XL-1 lander, which is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, for an additional $15,000 contract.

The ispace Japan mission will seek to land on Lacus Somniorum, a plain on the moon’s northeastern near side. The other three will target sites near the lunar South Pole, where NASA plans its future human landings.

The companies are charged with collecting a small amount — from about 2 ounces to a little over a pound — of rocky and dusty lunar soil, or regolith. They then would provide NASA with images of the collected material, along with data

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NASA confirms mysterious object orbiting Earth is 1960s-era rocket booster

The mystery is finally over — the space object that was captured by Earth’s orbit is indeed a rocket booster from the 1960s, NASA confirmed.

On Wednesday, the government space agency said the object known as “2020 SO” is not an asteroid, but rather a part of a Centaur rocket booster from the Surveyor 2 spacecraft, which launched toward the moon in 1966.

“Due to extreme faintness of this object following [Center for Near-Earth Object Studies] prediction it was a challenging object to characterize,” said Vishnu Reddy, an associate professor and planetary scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, in a statement. “We got color observations with the Large Binocular Telescope or LBT that suggested 2020 SO was not an asteroid.” 

This 1964 photograph shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket before being mated to an Atlas booster. A similar Centaur was used during the launch of "Surveyor 2" two years later. Credit: NASA

This 1964 photograph shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket before being mated to an Atlas booster. A similar Centaur was used during the launch of “Surveyor 2” two years later. Credit: NASA


“This conclusion was the result of a tremendous team effort,” Reddy added. “We were finally able to solve this mystery because of the great work of Pan-STARRS, Paul Chodas and the team at CNEOS, LBT, [Infrared Telescope Facility], and the observations around the world.”

On Tuesday, the rocket booster made its closest brush with Earth, when it came within 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles) of the planet, according to Virtual Telescope Project founder Gianluca Masi.

NASA has posted a video of 2020 SO’s looping orbits around the Earth.

Unfortunately, the Surveyor 2 never completed its journey, crashing on the lunar surface on Sept. 23, 1966. However, the Centaur booster “sailed past the Moon and disappeared into an unknown orbit about the Sun,” NASA said previously.

The rocket booster was initially discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey on Sept. 17, 2020 and announced two days later.

2020 SO initially “slowly drifted” into Earth’s Hill sphere on Nov. 8, 2020, and will remain there for roughly four months before it goes back into orbit around the sun in March 2021.


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NASA: Mystery object is 54-year-old rocket, not asteroid

Scientists have confirmed that a mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday.

The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 32 feet (10 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.

“Today’s news was super gratifying!,” Chodas said via email. “It was teamwork that wrapped up this puzzle.”

The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles (50,476 kilometers). It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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