Applauding NASA's Efforts to Benefit from the Commercial Lunar Exploration Industry

An update from Will Pomerantz, Senior Director of Space Prizes, on behalf of the X PRIZE Foundation.

moon viewThis past Friday (6 August 2010), the commercial lunar exploration industry—including the 21 teams competing in the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE—got a boost when NASA, the US civil space agency, announced its intentions to purchase specific data related to lunar exploration resulting from commercial development of small, robotic lunar landers. This important announcement not only represents a significant effort to further lunar exploration but also shows that NASA recognizes the valuable insight that private companies that can provide into emerging technologies and systems that will benefit NASA as it develops its own plans to explore the solar system.

The Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program, managed out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, will award small, firm-fixed price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts over the course of the next few years, with a total value of as much as $30.1 million. NASA explained that multiple awards are possible, with a minimum data purchase of $10,000 for each selected contractor. Individual awardees can earn as much as $10.1 million. Through these contracts, NASA is purchasing “data associated with the design and demonstration of an end-to-end lunar landing mission including: hardware design, development, and testing; ground operations and integration; launch, trajectory correction maneuvers, and lunar braking burn; lunar landing; and other enhanced capabilities.”

A wide range of companies are expected to respond to the opportunity, including many of the Google Lunar X PRIZE competitors. These teams—small businesses, non-profits, and university consortia located across the United States and globally—are developing important technologies and capabilities that will allow NASA to accomplish more in less time and for less money. The type of data that NASA is soliciting with these contracts has never before been available for purchase, and will come at a substantially lower cost than would be possible through dedicated governmental missions.

NASA’s offering will come as welcome news to those on both sides of the recent debate over the future of the agency’s exploration program, many of whom feared the agency would abandon exploration of the Moon. With this procurement effort, NASA has re-established itself as a world leader in the new era of lunar exploration, ‘Moon 2.0,’ which derives sustainability from an open, participatory relationship between civil and commercial partners from many nations.

Tiffany Montague, a Manager of Business Development at Google and the company’s main representative for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, says that "we're thrilled that NASA has seized this creative opportunity to engage with the commercial space industry. We're approaching an era when space will finally become open and accessible for everyone, and it's exciting to see private and public sectors complement each other."

William Pomerantz, Senior Director for Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation, notes that “this NASA announcement will allow for public private partnerships that will maximize the results we’ll see from this new era of lunar exploration. From the start, we’ve worked with NASA to ensure that the technologies and systems that emerge from the Google Lunar X PRIZE will be complementary to NASA’s own efforts, rather than competing with them.”

A section of the Google Lunar X PRIZE rules that requires teams to be mainly privately funded likely will not interfere with teams that choose to pursue this opportunity. We’ve always drawn a distinction in our rules and in our rhetoric between arrangements where governments are financiers of teams versus those where governments are the customers of teams. Simple funding arrangements are probably not sustainable over long periods of time, but healthy customer-provider relationships are, and our rules reflect that difference. Indeed, the idea of private firms selling services to government space agencies, among other customers, was expressly the concept behind the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

The contract awards will be managed by NASA’s Lunar Lander Project Office. For more information, visit NASA’s website for the program,

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