More reliance on private companies like SpaceX

NASA wants to accelerate its plans to establish a permanent human presence on the surface of the moon. And Bridenstine plans to “increase the use of commercial partnerships” to do that, the budget said.

“Everything to this point has put the moon first in this administration. It looks like they’re going all in,” Anderson said.

NASA’s budget sets aside $363 million specifically to help companies develop “a large lunar lander” to take cargo and astronauts to the moon’s surface. This funding and development model is similar to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, Anderson said, “which is incredibly encouraging.” That NASA program ended in 2013, after SpaceX and Orbital Sciences (now a division of Northrop Grumman) successfully developed new spacecraft and rockets for NASA to send cargo to the International Space Station.

Musk’s space company, as well as Jeff Bezos’ venture Blue Origin, are both developing spacecraft capable of landing on the moon. There is “no doubt” both companies are working with NASA on landing on the moon and other planetary bodies, Anderson said.

Mike French, Bryce Space and Technology senior vice president, also pointed to SpaceX and Blue Origin as top contenders for NASA lunar lander funds. He said there will be “an interesting mix of traditional contractors” such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin also competing for NASA awards.

Additionally, NASA has nine companies competing for up to $2.6 billion in lunar transportation contracts. Known as the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (CLPS), the effort would send small payloads and robots to the moon’s surface as early as 2021.

“CLPS is the most significant near term revenue stream for startups,” French said.

Under CLPS, the agency will award multiple contracts for lunar missions over the next 10 years.

“Anyone working on lunar landers is also going to benefit,” Anderson said.

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