Nasa to pay company $1 to collect rocks from moon

Nasa is paying a Colorado-based company $1 (£0.74) to collect a small sample of rocks from the moon.

Lunar Outpost is among four firms awarded contracts to retrieve lunar regolith, or moon soil, for the US space agency, for a total of $25,001.

Nasa will use the soil in its Artemis programme, which aims to send the next man and a woman to the moon by 2024.

It is also trying to establish a business model for the extraction, sale and use of off-Earth resources.

The other winning bidders were California-based Masten Space Systems and Tokyo-based ispace, along with its European subsidiary.

Nasa will be paying the companies for individual collections of lunar regolith between 50g and 500g in weight.

“The companies will collect the samples and then provide us with visual evidence and other data that they’ve been collected,” a spokesman for Nasa said in a statement. Once this has happened, ownership of the material will transfer to Nasa.

The funding is so low because Nasa is only paying for the collection of the regolith, not any of the companies’ development or transport costs, agency officials said.

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Colorado-based Lunar Outpost, a robotics firm, will collect moon rocks from the lunar South Pole.

“The plan is for the mission to take place in 2023, but we are working with several different lander companies, which could result in an earlier launch date,” Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus told the BBC.

The fee is not the motivation for these companies. There are expected to be many scientific benefits to the mission, such as allowing firms to practice extracting resources from the lunar surface.

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Mr Cyrus called it “a paradigm shift in the way society thinks about space exploration”.

The company is in talks with Blue Origin – a space exploration firm set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – and several other companies already scheduling flights to the moon, about travelling with them.

Among the other winning bids, Japan’s ispace will be paid $5,000 for its proposed collection in 2022 on the Moon’s north-eastern near side.

Not about the money
“The nominal amount of even a dollar is an important precedent that Nasa is setting,” said Sinead O’Sullivan, a space expert.

“The innovation here is not of financial value but of creating business and legal norms of creating a market of buyers and sellers outside of Earth’s constraints,” she added.

The awards for the three companies will be paid in a three-step process. A total of 10% of the funds at the time of the award, 10% when the company launches its collection spacecraft, and 80% when Nasa verifies the company collected the material.

“Yes, the $1 will come in three tiny but important instalments of $0.10, $0.10, and $0.80,” joked Mr Cyrus.

The space agency’s announcement on Thursday comes as China conducts its own lunar sample collection mission.

The Chinese Chang’e-5 lunar spacecraft is currently on its way back to Earth with samples from the moon.

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