Nasa to pay company $1 to collect rocks from moon

Nasa is paying a company $1 (74p) to collect rocks from the moon after it was accepted as a winning bidder.

On Thursday Lunar Outpost was awarded a contract to collect samples for the US space agency.

It is one of four contracts awarded by Nasa under its low-cost lunar resource collection programme.

The other winning bidders were California-based Masten Space Systems and Tokyo-based ispace, along with its European subsidiary.

Nasa will be paying the companies for individual collections of lunar regolith, or moon soil, between 50g and 500g in weight.

“The companies will collect the samples and then provide us with visual evidence and other data that they’ve been collected,” a spokesman for Nasa said.

“The plan is for the mission to take place in 2023, but we are working with several different lander companies, which could result in an earlier launch date,” Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus told the BBC.

Colorado-based Lunar Outpost, a robotics firm, will be paid $1 for collecting moon rocks from the lunar South Pole.

But the fee is not the motivation for these companies. There are expected to be many scientific benefits to the mission such as allowing firms to practice extracting resources from the lunar surface.

Mr Cyrus called it “a paradigm shift in the way society thinks about space exploration”.

The company is in talks with Blue Origin and several other companies that are working to fly to the moon.

Blue Origin is a space exploration firm set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Among the other winning bids, Japan’s ispace will be paid $5,000 for its proposed collection in 2022 on the Moon’s north-eastern near side.

Not about the money

“The nominal amount of even a dollar is an important precedent that Nasa is setting,” said Sinead O’Sullivan, a space expert.

“The innovation here is not of financial value but of creating business and legal norms of creating a market of buyers and sellers outside of Earth’s constraints,” she added.

The awards for the three companies will be paid in a three-step process. A total of 10% of the funds at the time of the award, 10% when the company launches its collection spacecraft, and 80% when Nasa verifies the company collected the material.

“Yes, the $1 will come in three tiny but important instalments of $0.10, $0.10, and $0.80,” joked Mr Cyrus.

The space agency’s announcement on Thursday comes as China conducts its own lunar sample collection mission.

The Chinese Chang’e-5 lunar spacecraft is currently on its way back to Earth with samples from the moon.

– BBC

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