A commercial robotic lander developed by the Japanese company ispace was supposed to land on the moon at 12:40 p.m. EDT (1640 UTC) Tuesday, attempting to make history as the first privately-funded enterprise to achieve a controlled touchdown on the lunar surface. But mission controllers lost contact with the spacecraft just before landing.
The next time astronauts land on the moon, they will ride to the lunar surface in a spacecraft that looks a lot different than the Apollo-era landing module last used in 1972. Lander concepts proposed by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics — which won a combined $967 million in NASA funding Thursday — take wildly different approaches to carrying crews to the moon.
Blue Origin has partnered with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to build elements of the company’s human-rated lunar lander, and Draper will lead development of the lander’s avionics and guidance systems, with an aim to be ready to land a crew on the moon by 2024, company founder Jeff Bezos announced Tuesday.
Within days, NASA is expected to select a winner from a roster of nine eligible companies to try and become the first commercial entity to accomplish a soft landing on the moon with a robotic spacecraft. The privately-developed probe would be the vanguard in a series of unpiloted missions intended to deliver science instruments to the lunar surface and prepare for a human expedition as soon as 2024.
NASA announced Thursday nine companies that will be eligible to compete for up to $2.6 billion in contracts over the next decade to ferry scientific instruments and tech demo payloads to the moon aboard commercial robotic landers, a first step in what agency officials said will foster expanded private investment in deep space exploration and an eventual return of humans to the lunar surface.