The US space agency NASA awarded contracts to four companies on Thursday, 3 December, to collect lunar samples for $1 to $15,000, rock bottom prices that are intended to set a precedent for future exploitation of space resources by the private sector.
The contracts are with Lunar outpost of golden Colorado for $1, ispace Japan of Tokyo for $5,000, ispace Europe of Luxembourg for $5,000 and Masten space systems of mojave California for $15,000.
“I think it’s kind of amazing that we can buy lunar regolith from four companies for a total of $25,001, said Phil McAlister, director of NASA’s commercial spaceflight division.
The firms are to collect a small amount of lunar soil known as regolith from the moon and to provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material.
Ownership of the lunar soil will then be transferred to NASA and it will become the sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the artemis programme.
Under the programme, NASA plans to land a human on the moon by 2024 and lay the groundwork for sustainable exploration and an eventual mission to Mars.
“The precedent is a very important part of what we’re doing today, said Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations.
“We think it’s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract and 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, Mike added.