NASA awarded contracts to to collect lunar soil samples

NASA awarded contracts to four companies to collect samples of lunar soil for prices ranging from $ 1 to $ 15,000.

The US space agency on Thursday awarded four companies contracts allowing them to collect samples of moon dust for low prices to set a precedent, for lack of international consensus on property rights outside the Earth.

The American space agency granted, Thursday, December 3, contracts to four companies which offered to collect samples of the lunar soil for prices ranging from 1 to 15 000 dollars. These documents aim above all to set a legal preview for the exploitation of extraterrestrial resources by the private sector.

“It’s extraordinary that we can buy lunar regolith from 4 companies for a total of $ 25,001,” said Phil McAlister, head of this program at NASA. In exchange for the sums, the companies – Lunar Outpost ($ 1), iSpace Japan and iSpace Europe ($ 5,000 each) and Masten Space Systems ($ 15,000) – will have the mission to manage to land on the Moon, recover some tens or hundreds of grams of samples, photograph them and carry out a transfer of ownership on-site in favour of NASA.

Begin a new phase of space exploration

The companies will make collection robots travel on already planned moon-landing missions which will be funded by an organisation other than NASA, and which will land in 2022 and 2023.

The return of samples is not expected at this stage, as the main objective is to initiate a new phase of space exploration, in which the private sector participates to find minerals and resources, like water, to live and produce fuel outside the Earth – all while being legally protected.

It is imperative to set the precedent which private sector entities can extract and take the resources,” told Mike Gold, who is a senior NASA official in charge of international relations. “It will definitely set a precedent internally and externally.”

The United States wishes to set a precedent as there is no international consensus on property rights on the outer Universe. Rival space powers Russia and China do not match the opinions of Washington. The 1967 space treaty is vague which inscribes only the prohibition of “national appropriation by proclamation of sovereignty, neither by use nor by any other means“. Actually, the Americans do not want to plant a flag in new territory.

But these said, as part of what they called the Artemis Accords, that they reserved the right to make “safe zones” to protect related activities on a celestial body. Artemis is the space program to return to the Moon, with two astronauts planned on-site in 2024.

Mike Gold assured that these new activities would be done “in compliance with the space treaty”. “It is important that America is a leader not only technologically, but also politically.”