How much is a moon rock worth? According to new contracts inked between NASA and four startups, it’s somewhere between $1 and $15,000.
NASA is paying startups for moon rocks. It’s not what you think Jackie Wattles
NASA pledged in September to buy moon rocks from companies that can get robotic rovers to the lunar surface and scoop up samples of the dusty terrain, and the space agency asked for bids from companies all over the world. The winners were unveiled Thursday: California-based Masten, Lunar Outpost of Colorado, and two separate companies that are both called iSpace — one from Japan and the other from Luxembourg.
The program, which NASA hopes will be completed by 2024, the same year the agency hopes to return astronauts to the moon, is among the most unique in US history. The goal is not to glean new information about lunar soil composition or study how various lunar resources can be used. The goal, rather, is to encourage the private sector to invest in rover development.
And perhaps the primary goal of the project is to make clear to the rest of the world that the moon is not just a place for exploration and research — it’s a place of business.
NASA may be the only organization that’s currently in the market for buying moon rocks from private companies, but the space agency allowed the companies to name their price. Lunar Outpost pledged to sell their sample for just $1, by far the smallest bid. Both iSpace companies plan to sell their samples for $5,000. And Masten will sell its collection for $15,000.
It’s not yet clear if any of the companies will succeed in their efforts. NASA says it will only pay 10% of the total purchase price upfront. And yes, NASA plans to mail Lunar Outpost’s a check for 10¢, according to Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development. The companies will receive another 10% after their rovers launch into space, and the final 80% will be paid out after the companies prove to NASA that their rovers have actually collected lunar soil samples of between 50 and 500 grams, or up to about a pound when weighed on Earth.
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