That is as simple and straightforward as it can be stated: get to the moon, bring back a piece of rock, hand it over to NASA, and get paid handsomely. This solicitation was made by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine who called on commercial space companies to collect moon samples and get paid for the effort.
According to NASA, the potential success of the Artemis Moon mission slated for 2024 is dependent on analyzing the lunar surface for its architecture. With the scheduled program, NASA plans to launch a man and a woman to the moon for closer investigation of the lunar surface nearly 50 years after the first Apollo mission.
NASA’s Bridenstine is therefore calling on commercial companies to bid to bring back any lunar samples such as soil, rock pieces, and regolith that could be studied by NASA for further knowledge of the moon before the Artemis Moon mission launches. For the successful company, NASA will pay 10% of the total contract first upon being awarded the project, and another 10% after the mission launches and the final 80% after the contract is fully executed.
“The requirements we’ve outlined are that a company will collect a small amount of Moon “dirt” or rocks from any location on the lunar surface, provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material, along with data that identifies the collection location, and conduct an “in-place” transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith or rocks to NASA,” Bridenstine explained. “After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for our use…NASA’s goal is that the retrieval and transfer of ownership will be completed before 2024.”
Many commercial space companies will already be gearing up for the challenge, but NASA did not make the financial reward involved explicitly. The major companies that will be bidding for the project are not known at this moment, but this is expected to be revealed in the next few weeks or months. Before the current announcement for a lunar sample, NASA had tasked companies to transport scientific experiments and other payloads to the Moon and it is also not known if any companies had responded to this yet.