Desperately seeking regolith: NASA seeks proposals for collecting Moon dirt

Hand-over to happen on the lunar surface. Legally speaking


Got a Moon rocket handy? NASA is looking for proposals from the private sector for scraping bits off the surface of the Moon.

Breathlessly announced today by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the expectation is that at least one company will step up to collect a lump of regolith before the agency's 2024 deadline for putting boots on the surface.

Getting the commercial sector involved in the US's next grand adventure has long been a goal, and NASA has had some notable successes with ISS supply freighters and, most recently, a crew launched in a SpaceX capsule.

"We know a supportive policy regarding the recovery and use of space resources is important to the creation of a stable and predictable investment environment for commercial space innovators and entrepreneurs," said Bridenstine.

To that end, NASA has published [PDF] a request for quotations for the job of collecting between 50 and 500g from the lunar surface (rocks will do), provide imagery of where the samples came from, and then perform an "in-place ownership transfer from Contractor to NASA" upon collection from the lunar surface.

What NASA does with the material once transferred is up to the agency. "The agency will determine retrieval methods for the transferred lunar regolith at a later date," said Bridenstine.

A supportive policy regarding the recovery and use of space resources is important to the creation of a stable and predictable investment environment for commercial space innovators

If it seems vague, we don't blame you. From the sounds of it, NASA wants someone to send something to the Moon, collect rocks and other samples, and then hand ownership of said rocks to NASA on the surface, and the space agency will take it from there. The scope is also relatively wide. While NASA won't pay for any development, production or launch vehicle costs, the agency is not fussed from where the materials are collected on the Moon, nor the type (it will also accept ice.) The timing is up to the contractor, so long as it is by 2024.

The award, which is broken down into 10 per cent after completing the concept review, 10 per cent following a launch and 80 per cent upon mission success, is on the basis of "low price, technically acceptable."

NASA may also issue multiple awards.

The plan is ostensibly aimed at kickstarting some sort of commercial market for Moon dirt (even though the only buyer in town is NASA), along with the pushing along the agency's dreams for in-situ resources utilization (ISRU), essential if it is to avoid another Apollo-style flags and footprints affair.

The amounts are piffling compared to the 382kg of lunar rocks, cores and dirt brought back during the Apollo program. Samples are distributed annually for research and education. Some 300g of lunar samples were also returned to Earth by Soviet spacecraft.

This time around, NASA wants commercial outfits to do the collecting. Delivery "occurs on the lunar surface."

The likes of Astrobotic are already lined up to send a lander a to the Moon under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Program; the Peregrine lander is due to fly atop ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket in 2021. Jeff Bezos' Blue Moon lander is also set to touch down on the lunar surface by 2024. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • AMD claims its GPUs beat Nvidia on performance per dollar
    * Terms, conditions, hardware specs and software may vary – a lot

    As a slowdown in PC sales brings down prices for graphics cards, AMD is hoping to win over the market's remaining buyers with a bold, new claim that its latest Radeon cards provide better performance for the dollar than Nvidia's most recent GeForce cards.

    In an image tweeted Monday by AMD's top gaming executive, the chip designer claims its lineup of Radeon RX 6000 cards provide better performance per dollar than competing ones from Nvidia, with all but two of the ten cards listed offering advantages in the double-digit percentages. AMD also claims to provide better performance for the power required by each card in all but two of the cards.

    Continue reading
  • Google opens the pod doors on Bay View campus
    A futuristic design won't make people want to come back – just ask Apple

    After nearly a decade of planning and five years of construction, Google is cutting the ribbon on its Bay View campus, the first that Google itself designed.

    The Bay View campus in Mountain View – slated to open this week – consists of two office buildings (one of which, Charleston East, is still under construction), 20 acres of open space, a 1,000-person event center and 240 short-term accommodations for Google employees. The search giant said the buildings at Bay View total 1.1 million square feet. For reference, that's less than half the size of Apple's spaceship. 

    The roofs on the two main buildings, which look like pavilions roofed in sails, were designed that way for a purpose: They're a network of 90,000 scale-like solar panels nicknamed "dragonscales" for their layout and shimmer. By scaling the tiles, Google said the design minimises damage from wind, rain and snow, and the sloped pavilion-like roof improves solar capture by adding additional curves in the roof. 

    Continue reading
  • Pentester pops open Tesla Model 3 using low-cost Bluetooth module
    Anything that uses proximity-based BLE is vulnerable, claim researchers

    Tesla Model 3 and Y owners, beware: the passive entry feature on your vehicle could potentially be hoodwinked by a relay attack, leading to the theft of the flash motor.

    Discovered and demonstrated by researchers at NCC Group, the technique involves relaying the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals from a smartphone that has been paired with a Tesla back to the vehicle. Far from simply unlocking the door, this hack lets a miscreant start the car and drive away, too.

    Essentially, what happens is this: the paired smartphone should be physically close by the Tesla to unlock it. NCC's technique involves one gadget near the paired phone, and another gadget near the car. The phone-side gadget relays signals from the phone to the car-side gadget, which forwards them to the vehicle to unlock and start it. This shouldn't normally happen because the phone and car are so far apart. The car has a defense mechanism – based on measuring transmission latency to detect that a paired device is too far away – that ideally prevents relayed signals from working, though this can be defeated by simply cutting the latency of the relay process.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022