Washington: NASA awarded contracts to four companies on Thursday to collect lunar samples at a price of $1 to $15,000 per month. The lowest price is designed to set a precedent for the private sector to develop space resources in the future.
“I think it s kind of amazing that we can buy lunar regolith from four companies for a total of $25,001,” said Phil McAlister, director of NASA s Commercial Spaceflight Division.
The contracts are with Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado for $1; ispace Japan of Tokyo for $5,000; ispace Europe of Luxembourg for $5,000; and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California for $15,000.
The companies plan to carry out the collection during already scheduled unmanned missions to the Moon in 2022 and 2023.
These companies will collect a small amount of lunar soil from the moon, called regolite, and provide NASA with images of the collection and the collected materials.
Then, the ownership of the lunar soil will be transferred to NASA, and it will become “NASA’s exclusive property used by the agency under the Artemis program.”
According to the Artemis plan, NASA plans to land a man and a woman on the moon by 2024, laying the foundation for sustainable exploration and eventual flight to Mars.
“The precedent is a very important part of what we re doing today,” said Mike Gold, NASA s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations.
“We think it s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract, can take these resources but NASA can purchase and utilize them to fuel not only NASA s activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the Moon,” Gold said.
“We must learn to generate our own water, air and even fuel,” he said. “Living off the land will enable ambitious exploration activities that will result in awe inspiring science and unprecedented discoveries.”
Any lessons learned on the Moon would be crucial to an eventual mission to Mars.
“Human mission to Mars will be even more demanding and challenging than our lunar operations, which is why it s so critical to learn from our experiences on the Moon and apply those lessons to Mars,” Gold said.
“We want to demonstrate explicitly that you can extract, you can utilize resources, and that we will be conducting those activities in full compliance with the Outer Space Treaty,” he said. “That s the precedent that s important. It s important for America to lead, not just in technology, but in policy.”
The United States seeks to establish a precedent because there is currently no international consensus on space property rights, and China and Russia have not yet reached an understanding with the United States on this issue.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is vague, but it believes that outer space “is not subject to sovereignty, use or occupation, or any other means of sovereign appropriation required by the state.”