The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced Thursday that Draper and eight other U.S. companies, ranging from tiny startups to defense giant Lockheed Martin, will compete for $2.6 billion in NASA contracts.
Lockheed Martin, which built the InSight lander that successfully touched down on Mars Monday, said it plans to build a robotic moon lander based on a similar design that could carry a variety of payloads.
The good news for the companies concerned is that they are now eligible to bid for "indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity" contracts with a combined maximum value of $2.6bn during the next 10 years.
The goal is to get small science and technology experiments to the surface of the moon as soon as possible.
NASA along with Musk's SpaceX and Boeing is developing transportation systems that would allow the U.S. to fly astronauts from American soil for the first time since the space shuttle was retired in 2011. The company has previously worked with NASA to develop Moon commercial cargo transporation capabilities and was the first private company authorized by the USA government to land on the Moon.
They also require the companies to conduct "pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, random, post-accident, and periodic recurring testing of contractor employees in sensitive positions for use, in violation of applicable law or federal regulation, of alcohol or a controlled substance". The last manned USA spacecraft to touch down on the moon was Apollo 17 in 1972. But after several extensions, that competition ended quietly this year with none of the finalists even attempting a launch.
Also missing is Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos.
NASA's next lunar science experiments will arrive at the Moon via a spacecraft built by one of nine private companies - a first for one of the agency's science missions.
On Nov. 29, NASA invited media to its headquarters in Washington, D.C. for the announcement of new Moon partnerships with American companies. He gave the example of retroreflectors - essentially, fancy mirrors that reflect light in the direction it came from. The company was part of the Apollo moon missions that began in the '60s.
And of course, the moon's surface will be a kind of test site for human missions to Mars, much like the space station has established information about long-term human spaceflight. Astrobotic and Moon Express were founded with the aim of winning that prize.
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