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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA plans to provide free technical expertise, equipment, facilities and software to help selected companies develop lunar landers as part of a new program called Lunar Catalyst.
"The intent of this initiative is to stimulate and help commercialization," Jason Crusan, who oversees NASA's advanced exploration programs, said during a conference call with prospective bidders on Monday.
Development of commercial lunar landers would join a growing list of space transportation services that have attracted interest from U.S. companies. NASA already has turned over cargo deliveries to the International Space Station to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp, under contracts worth a combined $3.5 billion.
Companies interested in Lunar Catalyst have until March 17 to submit business plans and proposals to NASA, which could decide to purchase hardware or services at a future date, Crusan said.
As an example, he cited a mission that's under development to mine water on the moon. NASA intends to partner with Canada and other countries to produce a rover and a lander for the mission. But If those plans fall through, NASA could look to buy the equipment from, or partner with, U.S. companies, Crusan said.
NASA already has contracts to buy lunar science and technical data from several teams competing in the $30 million Google X Prize competition to land and operate a privately owned vehicle on the moon before the end of 2015.