When NASA released a request for information (RFI) for payloads that could fly to the moon on commercial spacecraft, Moon Express was the first company to offer an extra incentive, costing $1.5 million for three payloads to be flown on its vehicles. Now Moon Express’ main competitor, Astrobotic, has upped the ante with an incentive package of its own.

Astrobotic is offering every group that flies a NASA selected and funded payload on one of its vehicles a free subsequent flight with the same payload or a different one.

The idea is that a group of scientists and engineers would be able to rapidly follow up with a second mission based on the results of the first one, making lunar exploration an ongoing process rather than a series of one-shot missions. Astrobotic has pledged $12 million for the incentive package

Astrobotic is a contestant in the Google Lunar X Prize, which will reward a cash reward for the first private group to land on the lunar surface, return hires images and video, and move at least 500 meters from the landing site, either with a rover or by some other means by the end of 2017.

As of this writing, the company is trying to conclude a launch contract to take its lander as well as Team Hakuto of Japan and Team AngelicvM of Chile to the moon. Moon Express, SpaceIL, Team Indus, and Synergy Moon already have launch contracts and expect to try for a landing before the deadline.

The private race to the moon is heating up just as the incoming Trump administration is expressing renewed interest in having NASA send astronauts back to the lunar surface on the way to Mars.

Don’t miss the latest news!
Click on the topic you interest most. We'll keep you updated with all the news you shouldn't miss.
Tech

Team Trump has also noted that partnerships with commercial companies, of the sort that are engaged in the Google Lunar X Prize and are developing lunar transportation businesses such as Astrobotic and Moon Express. It could well be that the first crew to return to the moon since 1972 will be comprised of both NASA and commercial astronauts in the biggest public/private partnership in history.

Don't miss our page on Facebook!
Click to read more