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Government space agencies are turning to commercial partners in the new lunar space race. At the recent International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2018), held in Bremen, Germany, multiple space agencies from around the world announced initiatives to leverage commercial space companies in establishing infrastructure on the Moon.

Australia’s year-old space agency (ASA) announced at IAC 2018 that it will focus its efforts on supporting the country’s nascent commercial space sector. Megan Clark, former head of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) who now serves as chief of ASA, proclaimed the agency as being “the most industry-focused space agency in the world.” The agency hopes to spur Australia’s space sector to $12 billion by 2030.

ASA, along with the science-focused CSIRO, have their sights set on the Moon. The two agencies have released an invitation to the country’s tech and manufacturing companies to “rise to the challenge of establishing a human base on the Moon.”

ASA plans to build local capabilities and expertise in robotic systems, propulsion, in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and habitat and life support systems for its bid to build a crewed base on the Moon. CSIRO has released a roadmap for Australian space industry to drive engagement and growth among the space value chain.

“Together, the Australian Space Agency, CSIRO and other key partners will drive the full potential of our nation’s capabilities and competitive advantages, optimising our R&D opportunities and targeting growth across the space value chain to build a space sector of which all Australians can be proud,” Clark said.

Australia joins a growing list of countries that are aiming to boost local economies by tapping into the New Space groundswell. Here’s a quick round-up of space agencies around the world that are leaning on commercial partners to participate in the new lunar space race:

In September, Luxembourg launched its first space agency (LSA) to similarly help bolster its own commercial space economy, and just a week later announced lunar lander builder CubeRover will be opening up an office in the country.

Europe’s ESA, meanwhile, is busy bringing in new commercial partners for its Moon Village vision, which aims to leverage and support commercial space companies in establishing infrastructure on the lunar surface. The agency is calling for proposals for sending humans to the Moon, as well as for technology that will sustain crews while there, including ISRU technologies.

RELATED: With Moon in mind, ESA looks to private sector for developing ISRU

At IAC 2018, ESA announced it had joined commercial firms Airbus and Blue Origin to launch a Moon Race competition for developing technologies in the ISRU, energy generation, and life systems needed for establishing continued human presence on the Moon. The competition, which is being managed by a German nonprofit, promises to bring the winning teams to the lunar surface starting in 2024 to begin building the lunar economy. Mexico’s space agency Agencia Espacial Mexicana (AEM) is also participating in the competition.

Canada Space Agency (CSA), meanwhile, signed an MOU with startup Moon Express for possible future missions using Moon Express’ lunar orbiter and lander systems.

Launch providers design lunar landers

Looking to cash in on the lunar fever, Lockheed Martin repurposed some of its work on future Mars missions and its Orion crewed capsule to design a new lunar lander. The huge, reusable lander will be able to transport a crew of four astronauts, along with a metric ton of cargo, for two week missions on the lunar surface.

Blue Origin also released designs for its own crewed lunar lander. The Blue Moon lander, still in its design concept phase, will be able to deliver several metric tons of cargo to the Moon. At IAC 2018, Blue Origin signed an agreement with Germany’s OHB Group and MT Aerospace for future missions to the lunar surface using the lander. Blue Origin has said it could launch its lander as soon as 2023.

Kendra R Chamberlain
Editor and analyst at The Enterprise Orbit, covering new space business and technology developments; freelance journalist covering telecom, renewable energy technology & smart infrastructure.

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