A Look at NASA’s Plans to Explore the Moon

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Statement of Jason Crusan
Director, Advanced Exploration Systems Division
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

before the

Subcommittee on Space
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
U. S. House of Representatives


Lunar CATALYST: Promoting Private Sector Robotic Exploration of the Moon

As part of the Agency’s overall strategy to conduct deep space exploration, NASA is also supporting the development of commercial lunar exploration. In 2014, NASA introduced an initiative called Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST). The purpose of the initiative is to encourage the development of U.S. private-sector robotic lunar landers capable of successfully delivering payloads to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial launch capabilities.


NASA Space Act Agreements with Virgin Galactic, Moon Express, NanoRacks and More

NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements  (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with Virgin Group companies, Moon Express and NanoRacks. There is also a fourth table that has SAAs with a number of companies and organizations that we follow on Parabolic Arc.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)


House Space Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Private Lunar Exploration

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

House Subcommittee on Space Hearing
Private Sector Lunar Exploration

Thursday, September 7, 2017 – 10:00am
2318 Rayburn House Office Building)

Hearing Purpose

NASA is supporting private sector exploration of the Moon through various programs. The private sector is also investing their own funding in the hopes of serving a future market for transportation, cargo delivery, and surface operations (including in situ resource utilization). Moon Express plans to launch a mission to the Moon later this year or early next year. Astrobotic recently announced a mission in 2019. Blue Origin disclosed its “Blue Moon” concept last spring. The United Launch Alliance and SpaceX have also indicated plans to operate in cislunar space in the near-future. The Hearing will review these efforts, and NASA’s role, in order to better understand the challenges and opportunities that they present.


  • Mr. Jason Crusan, director, Advanced Exploration Systems, NASA
  • Mr. Bob Richards, founder and CEO, Moon Express, Inc.
  • Mr. John Thornton, chief executive officer, Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
  • Mr. Bretton Alexander, director of business development and strategy, Blue Origin
  • Dr. George Sowers, professor, space resources, Colorado School of Mines


Astrobotic, ULA Plan 2019 Moon Landing

Pittsburgh (Astobotic PR) — Astrobotic and United Launch Alliance (ULA) proudly announce today that Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander will be onboard a ULA launch vehicle in 2019, during the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

“Astrobotic is thrilled to select a ULA launch vehicle as the means to get Peregrine to the Moon,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. “By launching with ULA, Astrobotic can rest assured our payload customers will ride on a proven launch vehicle with a solid track record of success. Together, our two organizations will honor the past and trail blaze the lunar future.”


Astrobotic Selected for NASA Small Business Award to Develop Lunar CubeRover

Astrobotic Technology has been selected for a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract to develop a new class of rover to evaluate conditions on the lunar surface.

“The proposed innovation is a Lunar CubeRover specialized as a 2 kg payload to evaluate lander ejecta and to characterize small-rover trafficability,” the proposal states. “This CubeRover and its roles are specific to the RFP though broadly more general and impactful for exploration enterprise.


NSRC Day 3 Summary

Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems' Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)
Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems’ Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference finished up today in Colorado. There were provider presentations from Masten Space Systems and Virgin Galactic. Three researchers also presented results from suborbital microgravity flights.

Below are summaries of the sessions based on Tweets.

Astrobotic, NASA Team to Develop Flight Software for Griffin Lander

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)
Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

PITTSBURGH, PA, July 7, 2015 (Astrobotic PR) – Astrobotic Technology, in partnership with NASA under the Lunar CATALYST initiative, has developed a preliminary version of its flight software for precision guidance. This software will direct the Griffin lander to safe touchdown on the Moon at a pit in the Lacus Mortis region on Astrobotic’s first mission. Astrobotic developed the software using NASA’s Core Flight Software (CFS), then validated Griffin’s mission performance and fuel usage using NASA-proven modeling and simulation tools.


NASA Expands Commercial Partnerships Beyond LEO

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Building on the progress of NASA’s partnerships with the U.S. commercial space industry, NASA has recently announced several new initiatives for partnerships, including: the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST), Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC), and a Request for Information (RFI) for interest in evolving ISS functions and capabilities for supply and demand in support of the development of a low-Earth orbit (LEO) commercial market. These efforts are complementary to each other and support NASA’s overall exploration implementation strategy.


Astrobotic, Masten Perform Visually Guided Precision Landing

The combined AAS/XA-0.1-B system landing in the hazard field at Mojave. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)
The combined AAS/XA-0.1-B system landing in the hazard field at Mojave. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

Groundbreaking effort integrates two privately developed technology platforms to validate performance of autonomous precision landing capability

Mojave, CA (Astrobotic/Masten PR) —  Astrobotic Technology and Masten Space Systems announced today that the Astrobotic Autolanding System (AAS) successfully directed the Xombie vertical-takeoff vertical-landing suborbital rocket in a closed-loop test on June 20, 2014. In this technology demonstration, a computer vision system scanned the landscape, selected a landing spot, and directed a rocket-powered lander to a safe touchdown point, all without a human operator. The flight test was funded by the Flight Opportunities Program of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, CA.


GLXP Update: Astrobotic Will Carry Competitors’ Rovers to the Moon

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)
Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

PITTSBURGH, Penn. (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic Technology has invited its competitors for the Google Lunar XPRIZE to fly aboard its Griffin lander to the Moon, setting up the first extraterrestrial race as the lunar rovers sprint to the finish line to win a prize in excess of $20 million.

John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic Technology, made the proposal at the Google Lunar XPRIZE Team Summit June 3-6, 2014 at the Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary.


Astrobotic to Launch Time Capsule to Moon

pocari_sweat_logoPITTSBURGH, Penn. (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic’s mission to Lacus Mortis is aiming for several firsts – first demonstration of autonomous precision landing within 100m, first flyover and circumnavigation of a lunar skylight, first winner of the Google Lunar XPRIZE, and now, delivery of the first marketing campaign to the Moon.  Astrobotic is taking Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s “Lunar Dream” time capsule as a payload on its inaugural mission. The Japanese beverage maker plans to send their powdered sports drink, Pocari Sweat, along with the dreams and wishes of children from around the globe, to the surface of the Moon.

The “Lunar Dream” time capsule is a titanium Pocari Sweat can constructed by Singapore-based Astroscale, a start-up with a mission to remove space debris.  The can will contain 120 titanium plates laser-engraved with handwritten dreams submitted by children from Asia and elsewhere. The can will also contain a powder that, when combined with water, becomes a serving of Pocari Sweat. This shipment will be the first commercial product delivered to another world for marketing purposes.

Otsuka “hopes the stunt will inspire young people to become astronauts, so they can travel the 380,000 kilometers to our closest celestial neighbor, crack open the can, and consume the powder inside.”  Children’s messages can be submitted through the Lunar Dream Website through May 2015.

Astrobotic will deposit the time capsule when it lands at Lacus Mortis (Latin for “Lake of Death”), a plain of basaltic lava flows in the northeast part of the Moon that contains a lunar pit that is a suspected skylight.

Astrobotic to Develop Autonomous Landing Capability for Sample Return

Astrobotic lander (Credit: Mark Maxwell)
Astrobotic lander (Credit: Mark Maxwell)

Astrobotic Technology will develop the capability to perform autonomous, controlled landings on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids under the terms of a new Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Pittsburgh, PA (Astrobotic PR) — Future NASA and commercial missions will increasingly target destinations with challenging topography and limited communication, such as unmapped asteroids, surface rendezvous sites for sample return, and terrain features like polar peaks, crater rims, and skylights on Mars and the Moon. “These are worthy but unexplored destinations,” said William “Red” Whittaker, Astrobotic’s Chairman. “Smaller, less expensive robotic landers will precede human missions to such destinations, but they are less tolerant – even a small hazard such as a rock or slope could be fatal for a small lander. This class of missions demands precise autonomous hazard detection and landing.”


NASA Selects Astrobotic for SBIR Phase I Award

A mission concept to enter and explore a skylight on the Moon using Tyrobot. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)
A mission concept to enter and explore a skylight on the Moon using Tyrobot. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

NASA has selected Astrobotic Technology for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to develop an auto-landing system for sample return missions.

“The proposed research innovates safe, precise navigation for autolanding for sample return missions to a distant asteroid, planet, or moon,” the proposal summary reads. “The technology suite developed will be packaged as a commercial product.


CSF Congratulates Lunar CATALYST Partners

Washington, D.C. (CSF PR) — The Commercial Spaceflight Federation praises NASA for its announcement of three winners of their new innovative Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) partnership program. Two awards were given to CSF Executive Member Companies Masten Space Systems and Moon Express, with the third going to Astrobotic Technology.


Astrobotic, NASA Partner to Develop Commercial Lunar Landing Capability

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)
Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

Pittsburgh, PA (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic Technology has announced a new partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for development of robotic lunar landing capability.

Astrobotic has been selected as a partner under NASA’s new Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative. NASA’s call for proposals sought partners in the development of reliable and cost-effective commercial robotic lunar lander capabilities that will enable the delivery of payloads to the surface of the moon. Commercial lunar transportation capabilities could support science and exploration objectives, such as sample returns, geophysical network deployment, resource prospecting, and technology demonstrations.