In November, NASA dropped nine private space companies that will be allowed to bid on upcoming projects. Yesterday, they elaborated on what these projects would be under an industrial forum. Beginning this year, NASA hopes to send commercial landings to the moon's surface as the first step toward returning to the moon this time for good.
Long Lunar To-Do List
There is much work to be done before permanent or long-term moon activities can begin. The first tasks will be to practice launching and landing on the moon, as well as answering questions about the surface. There is plenty of technology that NASA wants to see established on the ground before people are sent back to the moon – and much of it is supposed to be for future Mars settlement.
Part of this technology has to do with a recent buzzword among the space settlement society: in-situ resource utilization or ISRU. It means using materials and resources that are already available on the moon and one day Mars, rather than mapping all our resources with us, as it has been standard for space missions. This usually means solar energy for energy. On the moon it will also mean extraction of water that can be used to drink or to drive rockets. Both hydrogen and water that make up water are powerful fuel materials.
Then, commercial moon partners will work on how to mine and recycle resources on the moon and make them available for future mission use. They will test housing for future crew missions. They will prove that they can collect materials from the moon's surface and return them to space or earth. And they will establish communication networks between robots on the moon's surface, way stations in the lunar orbit and mission control on the ground.
All of these commercial efforts must also be integrated with NASA's planned Lunar Gateway. This would be a space station in orbit around the moon that would serve as the Grand Central Station for robot or crew missions to the lunar surface, or even to the deep space mission. NASA hopes to open the Gateway by 2026, when the first power and propulsion elements enter the circuit in 2022.