"Today's announcement marks tangible progress in America's return to the Moon's surface to stay", announced Bridenstine during a public event held Thursday. "We want multiple providers that are competing on cost and innovation".
The research is meant to help get astronauts back to the moon more quickly and keep them safer once they arrive.
Work could start as soon as 2025, according to a statement by Yevgeny Mikrin, head designer at the country's space program.
You can think of it as an end-to-end service, but instead of a product to your front door, it's to the moon. All contracts to be signed are indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity and have a combined value of $2.6 billion for the following ten years.
NASA has not given any specifics for the bidding process, other than to say it will "look at a number of factors when comparing the bids, such as technical feasibility, price and schedule". NASA will later compete individual task orders among the companies to fly specific payloads to the moon.
In a release, Draper said it planned to build an uncrewed lander dubbed Artemis-7 that would be able to "complete sample collection and return, demonstrate the use of in-space resources and reduce risk for the production of human landers".
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"The reality is, we're getting ready to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since 2011, and we want to make sure we have a cultural assessment, a safety assessment of each of our providers", he said.
"Potentially, this spacecraft could be the first thing to show that we can produce water fuel from the moon and potentially turn the moon into a refueling station for spacecraft to go deeper and deeper into space", said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic.
NASA is apparently in a hurry - the agency said that selected contractors could begin flying missions to the moon as early as next year. This new plan hopes to allow for a diverse array of customers send their payloads to the Moon. But it isn't exclusively relying on the political bureaucracy to achieve this ambitious project - they're now partnering with the private sector to explore the stars.