Moon dust for $1 — that’s all NASA is paying one of the companies selected to collect lunar samples

Moon dust for $1 — that’s all NASA is paying one of the companies selected to collect lunar samples
Footprint in lunar soil. Few rocks are sitting out on top of mature Moon dust or lunar regolith. NASA
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has awarded contracts to four companies to collect dust from the Moon’s surface, and it’s paying one of them just $1 for the whole mission.
  • As per the payment plan, Lunar Outpost of Golden received 10 cents on getting the contract and will get another 10 cents after the mission launch. The full payment will only come in after it delivers the samples to NASA.
  • In comparison, the largest contract awarded to Masten Space Systems is worth $15,000.
The US space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), had doled out contracts to four companies on December 3 to collect samples from the Moon. One of these four companies, Lunar Outpost of Golden in Colorado, is only getting paid $1.

CompanyContract valueExpected launch Location of collection
Masten Space Systems, Mojave$15,0002023Lunar South Pole
ispace Europe, Luxembourg$5,0002023Lacus Somniorum (northeastern side of the Moon)
ispace Japan, Tokyo$5,0002022Lunar South Pole
Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado$12023Lunar South Pole

"We think it's very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract, can take these resources but NASA can purchase and utilise them to fuel not only NASA's activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the Moon," said NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations, Mike Gold.

Moon dust for $1 — that’s all NASA is paying one of the companies selected to collect lunar samples
Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt collecting samples from the moon during the Apollo 17 mission using a lunar rake in December 1972NASA

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NASA’s payment system for lunar samples
NASA will not make the entire payout in a lump sum. Only 10% of the proposed award will be given once the contract is awarded, and another 10% after the launch of the respective missions.

The remaining 80% will only be paid once the mission is completed in its entirety and the Moon dust has been handed over to NASA.

Comparison of payments between the largest and smallest contracts to collect samples from the Moon:
StagePayment to Lunar Outpost of GoldenPayment to Masten Space Systems
On getting the contract10 cents$1,500
On mission launch10 cents$1,500
On completing the mission80 cents$12,000

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“NASA’s payment is exclusively for the lunar regolith. The agency will determine retrieval methods for the transferred lunar regolith at a later date,” the agency said in a statement.

On a mission to collect Moon dust
These companies will send unmanned rockets to the Moon to collect a small amount of lunar regolith — or dust from the surface of the Moon. They will have to provide NASA with imagery of the collection and hand over the collection material.

Moon dust for $1 — that’s all NASA is paying one of the companies selected to collect lunar samples
Sample of lunar regolith collected during the Apollo 11 missionJohn A Wood/NASA

Aside from ispace Europe, the other three companies will be collecting lunar samples from the Moon’s South Pole. This is the same area where the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) attempted to explore with their lander Vikram during the Chandrayaan-2 mission but was unsuccessful.
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Moon dust for $1 — that’s all NASA is paying one of the companies selected to collect lunar samples
Orbital perspective of the lunar South PoleNASA GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio

According to Gold, these samples will play a key role in NASA’s upcoming Artemis mission, which will carry humans to the Moon.

"We must learn to generate our own water, air and even fuel. Living off the land will enable ambitious exploration activities that will result in awe inspiring science and unprecedented discoveries," he said.

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All of the learnings will also go a long way in gaining a better understanding on how NASA could carry out its next mission — to send humans to Mars.

"Human mission to Mars will be even more demanding and challenging than our lunar operations, which is why it's so critical to learn from our experiences on the Moon and apply those lessons to Mars," Gold remarked.

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