How Will We Prepare the Way for Human Presence on the Moon by 2028? A Look at NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services
We’re sure you’ve heard of it, but what exactly is NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative? At first glance, it sounds as if we’re just dropping stuff off (payloads) on the Moon as a part of NASA’s Artemis mission, and many companies are profiting.
Well, there’s a lot more to it than the name implies.
First of all, the CLPS initiative functions as a foundation for the Artemis mission (1). The CLPS initiative is part of getting that equipment ready by the first Artemis mission, with the goal of establishing “sustainable lunar exploration by 2028,” according to NASA (2).
What is a payload? A payload simply refers to the things that a spacecraft carries onboard. The payloads are critical to the mission’s success, and they can include things such as passengers, cargo, scientific instruments, equipment, and more. In the case of NASA’s Artemis mission, set to deliver the first woman (and a man) to the Moon in 2024, payloads include all of those things.
The payloads for the CLIPS and Artemis programs will be delivered by a variety of commercial providers.
According to NASA (3), “Under the Artemis program, commercial deliveries beginning in 2021 will perform science experiments, test technologies and demonstrate capabilities to help NASA explore the Moon and prepare for human missions.”
Commercial Payloads to the Moon
Where does the commercial part of all of this come in? As part of their new effort to use commercial services on missions, NASA has developed contracts with commercial partners to help transport these payloads to the Moon over the next several years. These contracts are indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts. NASA has encouraged the commercial vendors to also fly commercial payloads to the Moon in addition to their payloads for NASA. Commercial payloads are “a broad field (4) encompassing biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, materials and industrial processing” as well as human beings (think: space tourism).
The combined NASA contracts have a total contract value of $2.6 billion through November 2028. Some of the payloads NASA plans to send to the Moon include:
- Equipment to measure the distance between the Earth and the Moon,
- Equipment to study the Moon and Earth, and
- Technology to extend how far GPS signals can travel.
Critical to the Mission: COLDArm
Mechanisms and electronics that can handle extreme environments are critical to the success of the Artemis mission in 2024. Motiv’s own COLDArm (Cold Operable Lunar Deployable Arm) will be included in the payloads sent to the Moon’s south polar region. COLDArm is part of the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative (LSII) established by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate to “champion technologies needed to live on and explore the Moon.”
Motiv is developing COLDArm in partnership with Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The new space robotics and extreme cold technologies from both of our organizations needed an application to demonstrate their unique capabilities. So, the COLDArm concept materialized. According to Tom McCarthy, Motiv’s VP of Business Development:
“The emergence of the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) lander program provided a unique opportunity to demonstrate the technology in a relevant environment. COLDArm also demonstrates applicability in other solar system destinations.”
If We Can Make It on the Moon, We Can Make It on Mars
NASA’s plan isn’t to just stop with the Moon. Getting back to the Moon may have its own benefits, but the Artemis mission is viewed by NASA as the perfect “testing ground” for Mars. As NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “America is leading a return to the Moon, and this time, we’re taking all of humanity with us to explore long-term and get ready for Mars.” The idea being: if we can make it work on the Moon, we should be able to make it on Mars, too.
Speaking of Mars, learn more about Motiv Space Systems’ contributions to the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover.