NASA orders studies from private space companies on Mars mission support roles | TechCrunch

Mars exploration has always been the exclusive domain of national space agencies, but NASA is trying to change that. Handing over a dozen research tasks to private companies As a prelude to commercial support for future missions to the Red Planet.

This is the second time in a month that the agency has more or less expressed a desire for commercial support in Mars missions The original Mars sample return mission was aborted. In favor of an option potentially set up by private space companies.

A total of nine companies were selected to conduct 12 “concept studies” on how they could provide Mars-related services ranging from payload delivery to planetary imaging to communications relay. While each award is relatively small – between $200,000 and $300,000 – these studies are an important first step for NASA to better understand the costs, risks and feasibility of commercial technologies.

The companies selected for small payload delivery and hosting services are Lockheed Martin, Impulse Space and Firefly Aerospace; United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin and Astrobotic for large payload delivery and hosting services; Albedo, Redwire Space, and Astrobotic for Mars surface-imaging services; and SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin for the next generation relay series.

Nearly all selected proposals will adapt existing projects focused on the Moon and Earth, NASA said in a statement. The 12-week study will end in August, and there is no guarantee they will request proposals or contracts in the future. That said, it is similarly unlikely that future contracts will emerge without a study first conducted by a company that is competing for it.

The companies were recruited by a request for proposals submitted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory earlier this year. According to that request, the idea is to develop a new paradigm for Mars exploration, providing “more frequent low-cost missions” through partnerships between government and industry.

The plan is similar to the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which awards large contracts to private companies to deliver payloads to the Moon. And like CLPS, which Helped finance the first successful private lunar lander (Among others), these latest awards also show that the agency is becoming more comfortable working with smaller, earlier-stage startups working on unproven technology.