Will someone plz dump our shizz on the Moon, NASA begs as one of the space biz vendors drops out

OrbitBeyond begone: Getting to the Moon is hard

NASA made a slew of announcements yesterday aimed at bigging up the agency's efforts to get commercial companies involved with its deep space ambitions – despite one vendor dumping plans for a 2020 lunar landing.

The US space bureau began the week by admitting that one of its trio of commercial pals vying to ship payloads to the Moon, OrbitBeyond, has dropped out.

NASA had previously announced contracts with OrbitBeyond (as well as Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines) back in May, with the goal being to deliver science and technology payloads to the lunar service in 2020-2021. The three were part of nine companies selected in 2018.

OrbitBeyond was awarded work worth $97m and proposed to send up to four payloads to Mara Imbrium, a lava plain in a lunar crater, in September 2020. NASA was to have selected those payloads by the end of this summer.

At the time, Thomas Zurbuchen, head of the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said: "These landers are just the beginning of exciting commercial partnerships that will bring us closer to solving the many scientific mysteries of our Moon, our solar system, and beyond." And, of course, get those all-important boots on the regolith by 2024.

However, citing "internal corporate challenges", OrbitBeyond soon requested that it be released from the agreement. NASA agreed, and on 28 July the New Jersey company had the task order terminated. NASA still expects the remaining companies to drop payloads on the Moon in 2021 as planned.

While neither agency nor company would say more on what the "challenges" were, although we contacted OrbitBeyond to get their take and will update with any comment, it seems likely cost played a factor. Veteran NASA watcher Keith Cowing speculated that tension between OrbitBeyond and former Google X Prize participants, TeamIndus, over where the lander would be constructed also contributed.

Even with that lander design from TeamIndus to work with, building the Z-01 spacecraft and buying a ride to the Moon on a Falcon 9 was always going to be a challenge with funds only supposed to cover "services".

So then there were two. Although OrbitBeyond will still be permitted to compete in future rounds of Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) opportunities.

NASA followed the ejection by reopening CLPS to more commercial outfits keen to join the lunar lander fun. CLPS contracts are aimed at getting anything from small to large payloads to the Moon, including rovers, experiments and power sources ahead of the hoped-for human Artemis missions.

While the first gaggle of humans are expected to stick another flag in the Moon in 2024, CLPS contracts go through 2028 with indefinite delivery and quantity and are worth a combined $2.6bn.

Assuming the companies selected don't call it quits before, you know, actually launching anything. ®

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