NASA is looking to pay companies to collect dirt or rocks on the Moon within the next four years, as a first step in the agency's goal to accelerate lunar exploration.
"It's time to establish the regulatory certainty to extract and trade space resources," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a tweet.
NASA is seeking proposals from companies for how and where the collection of lunar regolith will happen. Under the terms of a contract, by 2024 a company would collect between 50 grams and 500 grams of Moon soil, provide imagery to NASA of the material and data of where to find it, and then transfer ownership of the materials to the space agency.
The agency said the collected material will then become its "sole property," with NASA planning to retrieve the material "at a later date."
The competition for contracts is not limited to U.S. companies, with bids due by Oct. 2. NASA did not disclose how much it expects the lunar collection contracts may be worth. But the agency did outline a payment structure, with companies getting 10% of the funds at the time of the award, 10% when the company launches their collection spacecraft, and 80% once they transfers the material to NASA.
"We are putting our policies into practice to fuel a new era of exploration and discovery that will benefit all of humanity," Bridenstine wrote in a blog post.
NASA's announcement follows President Donald Trump's executive order earlier this year that the U.S. would seek further international support for its policy that allows private organizations to collect and use resources in space. Trump's executive order essentially reaffirms a decision made by Congress in 2015, which gives American individuals and corporations "the right to engage in the commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space."
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