NASA’s return to the Moon with commercial partners

Man first landed on the Moon in July of 1969. It’s been 50 years since we first stepped foot on the lunar surface, but NASA and other space organizations around the world soon plan to usher in a new era of exploration—to the Moon and beyond.

The Moon is the perfect proving ground and eventual staging area for deep-space travel to destinations like Mars.

However, lunar exploration requires a lot of funding, research, and technology. To speed up this process, NASA is now partnering with commercial entities on lunar missions, with some slated as early as 2020.

Why go commercial?

NASA is accepting bids from 9 U.S.-based companies to deliver payloads to the Moon. Each payload will carry essential scientific instruments and supplies to study the Moon.

NASA says they will announce the bids this spring; the approved vendors will then build landers to carry payloads to the Moon on NASA’s behalf.

But with NASA’s immense resources and knowledge, why is it partnering with commercial entities?

It’s because of money and time.

NASA’s commercial partnerships are an unprecedented but necessary step to make space exploration more affordable and efficient.

The quicker NASA can conduct unmanned lunar missions, the sooner we can send a crew to the Moon again. Once we explore the Moon, we can travel to deeper regions of space, like Mars.

Lunar commercial partners

Our Moon is the key to understanding the intricacies of human space exploration. To make the Moon missions happen, NASA is changing its approach to payload delivery.

In addition to partnering with commercial entities, NASA is sending lighter payloads with more frequency. In the past, they would send one large payload that required lots of energy to launch. This shift makes payload delivery faster and more affordable.

Payload delivery promises to be a lucrative business, too. NASA says it has $2.6 billion available for payload funding for the next 10 years.

The goal of the impending lunar missions is to demonstrate and test technology to put humans on the Moon within the next 10 years.

It’s our goal to better understand resources on the Moon, like hydrogen, oxygen, and water. Through these missions, NASA will conduct research and place the stepping stones for long-term human existence on the Moon.

Looking forward, NASA plans to use the Moon as a staging ground for future missions to Mars.

The future of lunar exploration

NASA is entertaining two potential innovations to both save money and time on lunar launches.

It takes an immense amount of energy to launch landers from the Earth’s surface. That’s why NASA is considering the potential of “tugs” stored in Earth’s orbit.

These tugs would dock with payloads and propel them towards the Moon, requiring less fuel.

NASA is also partnering with companies to make 3D printing a reality for space travel. While astronauts have 3D printed items before, NASA aims to make 3D printing an integral part of the exploration.

For example, we could assemble and manufacture parts that we need once on the Moon, instead of assembling everything on Earth pre-launch.

Although these innovations are years away from fruition, NASA plans to proceed with commercial missions as early as 2020. To date, they’ve planned 12 missions, although the timing depends on when landers will be available.

Looking forward

While it may sound like a small step, these payloads are the foundation of our future exploring the solar system.

With the goal to send humans to the Moon again by 2028, NASA is making huge strides by partnering with commercial entities. Who knows where these smart partnerships will take us?