The United States Space Agency has launched an unprecedented call for tenders. It is about paying companies to go to the Moon and take lunar samples. The goal? Make progress on the development strategy for the exploitation of mining resources in space.
In a tweet posted on September 10, 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency wanted to buy lunar soil to commercial suppliers. This publication follows a call for tenders posted on the beta.SAM.gov platform. This is further proof that the United States wants to become the leader in exploitation lunar (and space) resources.
So NASA wants to pay private companies so that the latter organize expeditions to take samples. For the agency, it is a question of reducing costs. The call for tenders therefore invites these companies to submit their proposals to collect a sample of lunar dust (or regolith) with a mass between 50 and 500 grams.
After the samples are collected and returned to Earth, NASA will own them . In addition, the agency will pay 20% of the amount provided for in the contract before the mission and the rest at the end. A deadline has been communicated, namely April 2024 while the expedition will be documented in images. In any case, the objective seems to be to prove the technology intended for future exploitation of the Moon, Mars and asteroids. However, NASA did not specify what the first samples would be used for.
NASA has therefore chosen a completely new economic model. Indeed, the agency no longer wishes to bear all the development and operating costs of a mission alone. This new slot therefore aims to award service contracts to private space companies. As for the fact that the United States wishes to become a leader in the field, this vision is encouraged by the Artemis agreements mentioned a few months ago. However, these agreements could come in conflict with the space treaty of 1966, stipulating that space does not belong to anyone since no place can become private property.
Finally, a word about regolith. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), it is a resource that can be used as a base material for the construction of a base on the Moon using 3D printing. On the other hand, this tiny dust composed of glass-like micrometeorite fragments is very sticky and abrasive . The regolith therefore also represents a threat to the astronauts (inhalation), their own survival system but also the solar panels, the thermal control surfaces, which can be problematic in the context of the operation of a base.