NASA Embraces Commercial Lunar Explorers and Becomes Customer of Google Lunar X PRIZE Competitors

On 15 October, 2010, NASA, the U.S. civil space agency, announced that it will purchase data related to innovative lunar missions from six Google Lunar X PRIZE teams: Astrobotic, Next Giant Leap (through its team member Draper Labs), FREDNET, Omega Envoy (through its parent organization Earthrise Space), the Rocket City Space Pioneers (through their team member Dynetics), and newcomer Moon Express (further details forthcoming). NASA awarded small, firm-fixed price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts worth at least $10,000 to these companies, making them eligible to make later sales of lunar data worth as much as $10 million through the Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data program.

In exchange, each of these companies will provide NASA with unique and valuable data regarding the demonstration of critical technical components required to mount successful, low cost missions to the lunar surface. To claim the full $10 million, these teams must supply a variety of data packages as they pass significant milestones in the mission planning and operations; initial data packages worth just over $1 million will be from tests conducted here on Earth, but a majority of the available funding will come from spacecraft en route to or already on the lunar surface. These purchases demonstrate clearly that a new era of lunar exploration has begun, one in which government space agencies and commercial firms alike will play an important role in making missions to the Moon participatory and financially sustainable.

“We expect that NASA is going to get great value and great leverage from these purchases,” said William Pomerantz, Senior Director for Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation. “The dollar values may be a relatively small contract by NASA standards, but these contracts send a clear signal to the investment community that NASA is ready to purchase lunar data, even from small, entrepreneurial firms. This will give a huge momentum boost not just to the companies selected today, but to all of the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams and other companies hoping to sell unique lunar data to NASA and other space agencies at competitive rates.”

The Google Lunar X PRIZE teams, which range from non-profits and university consortia to established companies with billions of dollars in revenue, are developing important technologies and capabilities that will allow NASA and other space agencies to accomplish more in less time and for less money. The type of data that NASA is purchasing through the ILDD program has never before been available for purchase, and will come at a substantially lower cost than would be possible through dedicated governmental missions. The program re-establishes NASA as a world leader in the new era of lunar exploration, what the X PRIZE Foundation calls ‘Moon 2.0,’ which derives economic sustainability from an open, participatory relationship between civil and commercial partners from many nations.

"We're thrilled that NASA has seized this creative opportunity to engage with the commercial space industry,” said Tiffany Montague, Manager of Business Development at Google and the company’s main representative for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. “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."

The ILDD program and resulting contract awards will be managed by NASA’s Lunar Lander Project Office at the Johnson Space Center near Houston, TX.

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