The priceless precedent of a $1 Moon rock
Lunar Outpost lowest bidder to deliver lunar samples to NASA Metal Tech News – December 9, 2020
Last updated 12/9/2020 at 11:26am
Lunar Outpost has agreed to fly up to the Moon, grab a sample and sell the lunar rocks to NASA for $1. The Golden, Colorado-based company receives 10 cents of its prize upon award of the contract, another 10 cents upon launch, and the remaining 80 cents when it delivers the sample collected from the lunar South Pole region to NASA in 2023.
Despite the paltry monetary values printed on their face, these checks may prove to be some of the most important documents to establishing a human presence and economy on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
The excavation of Moon dirt by private companies and the selling of regolith to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with the transfer taking place on the lunar surface, will set a historic and legal precedent.
"Because of the groundbreaking nature of this agreement, the resulting precedent that is set will serve as a bellwether for future operations by NASA and international space programs alike," Lunar Outpost penned in a statement announcing the contract with NASA.
More information on the Artemis program and the precedent being set by NASA's Moon sampling contracts can be read at Precedent setting moon sampling mission in the Sept. 16 edition of Metal Tech News.
This lunar sampling is setting the stage for NASA's Artemis program, which aims to "land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before."
NASA says the ability to partner with private and international partners to extract and use extraterrestrial resources, and the precedent set, will ensure the success of Artemis operations.
"Leveraging commercial involvement enhances our ability to safely return to the Moon in a sustainable, innovative, and affordable fashion," said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA. "A supportive policy for the recovery and use of space resources provides a stable and predictable investment environment for commercial space innovators and entrepreneurs."
Artemis' testing and development of in-situ resource utilization, or space mining, techniques on the Moon will support human missions further into the cosmos. The ability to dig up local resources for fuel, water, air, and building materials will be essential to the success of future human missions to Mars and beyond.
"Space resources are the fuel that will propel America and all of humanity to the stars," said Mike Gold, acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, NASA.
While Lunar Outpost stands out for its $1 bid, three other companies were also selected by NASA to collect Moon samples based on costs and ability to meet the technical requirements of the solicitation.
• Tokyo-based ispace Japan plans to deliver NASA a sample from Lacus Somniorum on the Moon's northeastern near side in 2022 for $5,000.
• Luxembourg-based ispace Europe plans to deliver NASA a sample from the lunar South Pole area in 2023 for $5,000.
• California-based Masten Space Systems plans to deliver NASA a sample from the lunar South Pole area in 2023 for $15,000.
"These awards expand NASA's innovative use of public-private partnerships to the Moon," said Gold. "We're excited to join with our commercial and international partners to make Artemis the largest and most diverse global human space exploration coalition in history."
All four companies will be required to carry out their mission in compliance with provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, along with imagery of the sample collection and data that identifies the sample location.
After NASA receives the imagery and location data, an "in-place" transfer of ownership of the lunar sample to NASA will take place. After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for use under the Artemis program and the pioneering space sampling companies will receive the final 80% payment for the Moon dirt, including the final 80 cent payment to Lunar Outpost.
As a byproduct of this operation, Lunar Outpost said it will be working with NASA to begin the process of developing the legal and logistical framework for future space resource acquisition contracts.
"Once this infrastructure is in place, humanity will be well positioned to leverage new advances in space exploration technology to harness the endless potential of space resources," the precedent setting space pioneer wrote.