The Commercial Lunar Payload Services program

For this Space Legal Issues article, let’s have a look at the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Although NASA historically collaborated with the private sector through its aeronautics programs, academic grants, commercial satellite launch support, and dissemination of remote-sensing and other data, cooperation between NASA and the private sector grew in the late 1970s and through the 1980s. More than once, President Ronald Reagan stated his belief that NASA should encourage private-sector involvement in space and that the agency should remove obstacles to that involvement. In 1984, in response to the Reagan administration’s 1984 National Policy on the Commercial Use of Space, NASA established the Office of Commercial Programs (OCP). This office encouraged the private sector to become more involved in using space for commercial purposes and increased NASA’s efforts to find private-sector uses for NASA-developed technology.

Today, in the New Space age, let’s have a look at the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), a NASA program to contract transportation services able to send small robotic landers and rovers to the Moon with the goals of exploration, in situ resource utilisation (ISRU), and lunar science to support the Artemis lunar program. CLPS is intended to buy end-to-end payload services between Earth and the lunar surface using fixed priced contracts.

As the first major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA is working with nine American companies on delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts. The contractors shall provide all activities necessary to safely integrate, accommodate, transport, and operate NASA Payloads using contractor provide assets, including launch vehicles, lunar lander spacecraft, lunar surface systems, Earth re-entry vehicles and associated resources.

These companies will bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA will look at a number of factors including technical, price, and schedule. The agency may make one or more awards per task order. CLPS contracts are indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts with a cumulative maximum contract value of two and a half billion American dollars during the next ten years.

The CLPS program is being operated by NASA Headquarter’s Science Mission Directorate, in-conjunction with the Human Exploration and Operations and Science Technology Mission Directorates. Flight opportunities are scheduled to start in mid-2020.

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services program

NASA is returning to the Moon with commercial and international partners as part of an overall agency Exploration Campaign in support of Space Policy Directive-1. It all starts with robotic missions on the lunar surface, as well as a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway for astronauts in space beyond the Moon. Right now, NASA is preparing to purchase new small lunar payload delivery services, develop lunar landers, and conduct more research on the Moon’s surface ahead of a human return. And that long-term exploration and development of the Moon will give the experience for the next giant leap – human missions to Mars and destinations beyond.

The agency released a draft Request For Proposals (RFP) on April 27, 2018, encouraging the U.S. commercial space industry to introduce new technologies to deliver payloads to the Moon. This request for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) will further expand efforts to support development and partnership opportunities on the lunar surface. Using these services, the agency will accelerate a robotic return to Moon, with upcoming missions targeted for two to three years earlier than previously planned. NASA intends to award multiple contracts for these services through the next decade, with contract missions to the lunar surface expected to begin as early as 2019, and with a company’s first delivery no later than December 31, 2021.

NASA’s expanding Moon strategy seeks to harness the innovation of American space companies to build new lunar landers. This solicitation for payload delivery services is a sign of NASA’s ongoing confidence in U.S. industries’ abilities to meet needs for delivery services in space. These early deliveries to the lunar surface will support stronger scientific and exploration mission activities for NASA, and empower commercial industry to show the agency what they have to offer.

NASA has identified a variety of exploration, science, and technology objectives that could be addressed by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon. Some of those payloads will be developed from the agency’s Resource Prospector mission concept. This project, cancelled in April 2018, was intended as a one-time effort to explore a specific location on the Moon, and as designed, now is too limited in scope for the agency’s expanded lunar exploration focus. NASA’s return to the Moon will include many missions to locate, extract and process elements across bigger areas of the lunar surface. The agency is evolving Resource Prospector to fit into its broader exploration strategy, and selected robotic instruments will be among the early deliveries to the Moon on CLPS missions.

The actual CLPS Request For Proposal (RFP) states: “You are invited to submit a proposal in response to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Headquarters’ Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) solicitation. The principal purpose of this requirement is to acquire end-to-end commercial payload services between the Earth and the lunar surface for NASA Headquarters’ Science, Human Exploration and Operations, and Space Technology Mission Directorates (SMD, HEOMD, and STMD). The contractor shall provide all activities necessary to safely integrate, accommodate, transport, and operate NASA payloads using contractor-provided assets, including launch vehicles, lunar lander spacecraft, lunar surface systems, Earth re-entry vehicles, and associated resources. The Statement of Work, Attachment A, describes the scope of the requirement”.

This competitive procurement will result in multiple awards of Firm-Fixed Price (FFP) Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts with the ability to issue Firm-Fixed Price (FFP) task orders. The contracts will have an effective ordering period of 10 years from the contract’s effective date. The anticipated contract award date is December 31, 2018 or sooner with a January 2, 2019 or sooner contract effective date”.

On November 29, 2018, NASA announced the first nine companies that will be allowed to bid on contracts. “Today’s announcement marks tangible progress in America’s return to the Moon’s surface to stay” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The innovation of America’s aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars”. The selected companies were: 1. Astrobotic Technology; 2. Deep Space Systems; 3. Draper; 4. Firefly Aerospace; 5. Intuitive Machines; 6. Lockheed Martin Space; 7. Masten Space Systems; 8. Moon Express; and 9. Orbit Beyond.

Recently, on May 31, 2019, NASA has chosen three private U.S. companies to send unmanned landers to the moon starting in 2020. The companies and contract amounts are Astrobotic (eighty million American dollars), Intuitive Machines (seventy-seven million American dollars), and OrbitBeyond (ninety-seven million American dollars).

In addition to building landers, the companies are to deliver science and technology experiments as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. It is part of what NASA is calling the Artemis program (conceived as a follow-up to the Apollo program of the 1960s and 1970s; in Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo) to return people to the Moon’s surface by 2024. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the awarding of such contracts was “a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans”.