A concept drawing of the Gateway spaceship where supplies will be sent to. © NASA
A concept drawing of the Gateway spaceship where supplies will be sent to. © NASA

NASA aims to build 'deep space supply chain'

NASA is seeking aerospace logistics companies to build a “deep space supply chain” that will support the next mission to the Moon.

The space agency has issued a Request for Proposals to find US companies that can deliver unpressurised and pressurised cargo, science experiments and supplies to the lunar Gateway, a spaceship that will orbit the Moon. 

NASA is preparing for the Artemis lunar exploration mission that will send the first woman and the next man to the moon by 2024. The Gateway will act as a homebase for future Moon and Mars missions, where astronauts will live for three months at a time.

Contracts have been given a maximum total value of $7bn for 15-year partnerships, including a minimum of two missions. The work involves sending logistics spacecraft, on a commercial rocket, to the Gateway spaceship, located 250,000 miles away, for six months of operations.

Mark Wiese, gateway logistics element manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, said: “We chose to minimise spacecraft requirements on industry to allow for commercial innovation, but we are asking industry to propose their best solutions for delivering cargo and enabling our deep space supply chain. 

“In addition to delivering cargo, science and other supplies with these services, private industry also has the opportunity to deliver other elements of our lunar architecture with this solicitation.”

The contract will also require companies to “address logistics spacecraft design, cargo mass capability, pressurised volume, power availability for payloads and transit time to Gateway”.

This follows a Request for Information in October 2018 that called on US firms in the aerospace sector to share ideas on different logistics processes to transport supplies between Earth and the Gateway.

The US has been accelerating its moon to Mars exploration by working with private aerospace companies. This includes a contract in May awarded to Maxar Technologies to design, develop and launch a power and propulsion element and communications for the Gateway by 2022.

Jim Bridenstine, administrator at NASA, said: “Working with industry to deliver supplies necessary to support our lunar missions is a critical step to accelerate our return to the Moon under the Artemis program including meeting that bold goal to land the next American astronauts on the Moon by 2024.

“This solicitation builds on the capabilities NASA pioneered in low-Earth orbit with commercial cargo resupply to the International Space Station and is the next step in commercialisation of deep space. We look forward to industry’s response to our latest solicitation.”

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