Masten Space Systems Xeus lunar lander

NASA has announced its intent to sign three non-funded Space Act Agreements for the development of robotic lunar landing capabilities with Astrobotic Technologies, Masten Space Systems, and Moon Express.

The agreements are part of NASA’s Lunar CATALYST (Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown) program.

will work with three companies to help them advance robotic lunar lander capabilities that could deliver payloads to the surface of the moon. The no funds-exchanged partnership agreements NASA will negotiate with the companies are another step in the agency’s effort to spur growth in the commercial space sector.

There won’t be an exchange of funds between NASA and the companies, but the agency may contribute technical expertise of NASA staff, provide access to agency center test facilities, and loan equipment or software for lander development and testing for three year agreements.

NASA is seeking commercial lunar transportation capabilities that could support science and exploration objectives, such as sample returns, geophysical network deployment, resource prospecting, and technology demonstrations.

Masten is proposing its XEUS lunar lander (pronounced “Zeus”), which is derived from a Centaur upper stage. Masten has been studying the XEUS concept in cooperation with United Launch Alliance (ULA), the Centaur manufacturer.

Astrobotic and Moon Express will continue development of the landers they are building for the Google Lunar X-Prize. (Masten is not a Lunar X-Prize competitor.)

Moon Express Lunar Lander

The Lunar CATALYST program is managed by the Advanced Exploration Systems Division in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, which develops approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit. Nevertheless, the CATALYST program focuses solely on robotic missions. NASA continues to hold the party line that human missions beyond Low Earth Orbit can be undertaken only by NASA astronauts, using the Orion capsule and Space Launch System.

“NASA is making advances to push the boundaries of human exploration farther into the solar system, including to an asteroid and Mars, and continues to spur development in the commercial space sector,” said Jason Crusan, director of the Advanced Exploration System division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Robotic missions to the moon have revealed the existence of local resources including oxygen and water that may be highly valuable for exploration of the solar system. The potential to use the lunar surface in partnership with our international and commercial partners may allow these resources to be characterized and used to enable future exploration and pioneering.”

Astrobotic lunar lander on Moon (artist's concept)

Written by Astro1 on May 1st, 2014 , Masten Space Systems

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