In the workshop’s second session, moderated by Mohammad Kassemi and James Pawelczyk of the planning committee, the presenters described the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in detail. They offered examples of some research studies that are already scheduled to be taken to the lunar surface by CLPS, and provided important information for researchers who might be interested themselves in taking advantage of the CLPS program.
The first two speakers were representatives of NASA: Jay Jenkins, a program executive in the exploration science strategy and integration office at NASA headquarters, and Julie Schonfeld, a systems engineering and project manager based at NASA Ames, who is currently the payload integration manager for NASA’s commercial payload services. Together, they offered a full description of the CLPS process, aimed at researchers who might want to use a CLPS mission to carry out research on the Moon. Next, two representatives from Masten Space Systems, a CLPS vendor—that is, a commercial company that offers transportation to the Moon through the CLPS program—offered their own view of CLPS and what potential users of its services should know about the program. Those two presenters were Sean Mahoney, Masten’s chief executive officer, and Matt Kuhns, Masten’s vice president of research and development. Last, Jason Hatton of the European Space Agency (ESA) spoke about ESA’s own lunar science program and how the agency is taking advantage of CLPS to magnify its research efforts.
OVERVIEW OF THE COMMERCIAL LUNAR PAYLOAD SERVICES PROGRAM
Jenkins began by emphasizing that CLPS is a platform for going to the Moon; thus, the program is separate from NASA programs that fund research in space or on the Moon. His talk was aimed, he said, at those who would be looking to use the CLPS program to transport their experiments to the Moon. “Outside of NASA, you’re free to do whatever you want with these commercial providers,” he said, “but if you’re going to be seeking NASA sponsorship, then you’re going to want to take a look at this and pay attention to some of the restrictions and processes and behaviors” required by CLPS.
So what exactly is CLPS? Jenkins defined it this way: “CLPS is an innovative, service-based, competitive acquisition approach that enables rapid, affordable, and frequent access to the lunar surface via a growing market of American commercial providers.” CLPS has signed contracts with 14 domestic companies that offer transportation to the lunar surface. When a researcher works with NASA to carry out a study on the Moon, NASA asks for competitive bids from those companies to carry the experiment to the lunar surface and, often, to operate it there. The contracts are firm fixed price for the full scope of the delivery from the payload handover to the integration, testing, check out, and delivery to the lunar surface. Once on the lunar surface, there are other services that the company can provide.
It is important to keep in mind, Jenkins said, that while NASA has set up the CLPS program, none of the travel to the Moon under that program is done as part of a NASA mission. None of the rockets, spacecraft, or supporting infrastructure used in the CLPS program are NASA-owned. The launch is a commercial launch, which is approved and licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies, not NASA. If the rocket is carrying a NASA-sponsored payload, then NASA, not the provider,
owns the payload. It is in the custody of the provider for its trip to the lunar surface. In that sense, he said, the situation is analogous to FedEx or UPS carrying a package from one place to another.
The CLPS providers are responsible for the safe integration, delivery, deployment, and operation of the payloads. There are several types of services that may be provided, depending on the specifics of the payload: the physical operation of the payload, including command, data provision and acquisition, and power; payload release or deployment with or without wireless or tethered services, such as communications; and passive delivery, such as with laser reflectors, which just stay on the lander.
The menu of services available from CLPS providers is expected to expand as company capabilities and market forces evolve, Jenkins said. The number of CLPS providers may also increase as NASA’s needs change and evolve and as the commercial launch industry itself evolves. The types of new capabilities available in the future could include such things as the ability to survive and operate through the lunar night, increased delivery mass and volume, delivery into a lunar orbit, and return services.
The 14 CLPS providers that NASA has contracted with are Astrobotic, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Moon Express, Lockheed Martin, Orbit Beyond, Masten, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, and Tyvak. As they are commercial companies, any researcher is welcome to contract with them directly to carry experiments to the Moon, Jenkins said, but those researchers who are hoping that NASA will sponsor their payloads through CLPS should keep in mind that the contracts are awarded competitively, so there is no guarantee which of the 14 will be awarded the contract. “If you do anticipate NASA sponsorship for your payload,” he said, “please contact Kevin [Sato] or Julie [Schonfeld] or Fran [Chiaramonte] or myself, and we’ll put you in contact with the right people to get you information as to what types of things you should be designing.”
To date, Jenkins said, six contracts have been awarded under CLPS, for planned deliveries starting as soon as November 2021 and stretching into 2023. The companies that have been awarded delivery contracts are Astrobiotic (two contracts), Intuitive Machines (two contracts), Masten, and Firefly Aerospace.
Next, Jenkins described the manifest selection process. CLPS delivery manifests are selected by the CLPS Manifest Selection Board, which has representatives from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Space Technology Mission Directorate, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and Office of International and Interagency Relations as well as the CLPS project office. The payloads are chosen according to NASA priorities and the available budget from each of the three directorates. Payloads from international partners are generally represented by a “sponsoring” or “representative” mission directorate. Most of the payloads for the Science Mission Directorate will be done through solicitations from the Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon (PRISM) program, Jenkins said, with the awards given to principal investigators (PIs).
The manifest selection process can be broken down into six steps (Figure 3.1). The first step is identifying a need for a CLPS delivery. A representative will approach the Exploration Science Strategy and Integration Office about a potential delivery. Then the payload gets added to the candidate payload list from which future CLPS delivery manifests will be generated.
In step 2, the CLPS Manifest Selection Board reviews those candidates to choose which payloads are tentatively premanifested and to allocate those payloads across the next several CLPS deliveries. Step 3, solicitations and payload refinement, will be the most important one for program executives, Jenkins said. “This is where the homework has to be done in order to develop the requirements.” It is crucial that the requirements be identified up front, he said, because they will form the basis of the task order. “Anything not identified up front becomes a cost impact downstream.”
In step 4, the manifest selection board builds final manifests for upcoming CLPS deliveries. This is when the board “checks the homework to ensure that, yes, you’ve got all your requirements locked down, you understand them, you were ready to go into the CLPS procurement process,” he said. By the end of step 4, the board has a final manifest for a trip to the Moon. Step 5 is where the Exploration Science Strategy and Integration Office works with the CLPS project office to develop a request for a task order
proposal for that finalized manifest, sends out that request for proposals to the different commercial providers, and decides which provider will carry those payloads to the Moon.
Step 6 is the post-award directed work. This is generally not encouraged, Jenkins said, but it can accommodate post-award changes when they are deemed desired and justifiable. “After we have an award, there’s often some value-added, very specific scope that we might have to insert in there, and so we just have a mechanism for it,” he explained. “We try to avoid any directed work at all, and any directed work that we do is completely consistent with the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] and very strictly regulated steps.”
Audience member Vijay Dhir asked a question about who is responsible for developing the hardware that is part of the payload on a CLPS mission. Jenkins said that it could be a separate solicitation, perhaps funded by PRISM. However, the CLPS program is intended to pay for transporting the hardware to the Moon, not for developing it. As for the responsibility for the software for a payload, he said, that could be divided up between the researchers carrying out the experiment and the CLPS vendor, because some of the software could be part of the payload, and some of it could be part of the supporting infrastructure of the lander.
In closing, Jenkins showed a chart offering a much more detailed accounting of the typical lunar payload manifesting process (Figure 3.2), in which the top line corresponded to steps one through three. He then handed off the presentation to his colleague, Julie Schonfeld, who went into more detail on that process, with a particular focus on step 5.
CLPS PAYLOAD INTEGRATION
Picking up from Jenkins, Schonfeld began with the payload requirements and interface development step, which, she reiterated, is a critical step. At that point, she said, anyone who has proposed a payload will have a payload integration manager who provides support, helps finalize the requirements, and makes
sure that all the bases are covered in the request for a task proposal. Referring to Figure 3.2, she explained that once the final manifest for a flight has been set by the CLPS manifest selection board, CLPS will be working behind the scenes to develop the task order strategy and set forth the timeline for the flight.
At that point, the next step is to set up a payload workshop for the pool of vendors who are eligible to compete for the task orders. “This is a great opportunity,” she said, “to be able to present to the vendor pool what your instrument is, what you’re looking to accomplish with your science objectives, and then some nuances about the instrument that you really need them to consider.” The vendors can then ask questions of the people who developed the payloads. After the workshop, a draft request for task proposal is prepared and sent out to the pool of vendors, who can ask questions about the draft. The questions and answers to them are sent out to all vendors, and the request for task proposal may be revised in response to some of the vendors’ comments.
After the final request for task proposal is released to the CLPS vendors, those who are interested submit proposals. Proposals are evaluated and then a task order is awarded to the winning vendor. At that point, those whose payloads will be on the mission get reengaged with the process and begin working with the vendor to prepare for the mission.
In contrast to traditional NASA time frames, which can take a long time getting from manifest to a contract being awarded, CLPS was specifically set up to be a fairly efficient and rapid process, Schonfeld said. “So from the point where the payloads are manifested to the point where you’re starting to work with the vendor for the mission is on the order of 4 to 6 months.”
NASA provides a great deal of support for those who have payloads on a CLPS mission, Schonfeld said. “You’ll be supported by a payload integration manager. That’s the function that I serve.” These payload integration managers assist in developing requirement specifications for the task proposal, provide the primary interface between those with payloads and the provider, broker agreements for the landing site and various deliverables, ensure that the providers meet their task order requirements, and work with the NASA payload manager for payload deliveries to the CLPS provider. Last, she said, if there are deviations from the initial requirements, the payload integration manager will be the one who determines what can be accommodated.
In addition to the payload integration manager, whose focus is mainly on engineering issues, there will also be a project scientist involved. The project scientist’s role is mainly concerned with approving the science objectives and the mission success criteria. In particular, the project scientist coordinates among those with payloads on a particular flight to maximize the science value for NASA. The project scientist also works with the various groups with a payload on the mission to develop a landing site proposal and an operational plan, and will oversee the scientific operations during the mission. Last, when additional opportunities arise during a mission, it is the project scientist who looks at the potential benefits and chooses which opportunities to take advantage of.
In answer to an audience question posed during the discussion period, Schonfeld said that if a researcher with funding from outside NASA is working with a CLPS provider to go to the Moon, NASA scientists will not be involved. “What makes a NASA payload is if you are responding to a NASA solicitation to do lunar science, which would then go through CLPS,” she said.
Turning to payload requirements, Schonfeld noted that the CLPS model is different from what NASA has usually used in that the requirements for the payloads need to be specified up front. This ensures that the vendors know exactly what they are bidding on. As long as the requirements are specified up front, the CLPS provider must accommodate all of the needs of the payloads. The typical parameters that need to be specified include utilities requirements (power, data, commanding, etc.), mounting requirements (fields of view, alignments, co-locations, etc.), environmental (thermal, vibration, electromagnetic, etc.), and operational (mission phases, the duration of operations, uplink and downlink rates, etc.). Generally speaking, Schonfeld said, CLPS vendors provide not only delivery to the Moon, but also all of the operational resources necessary for operating the payloads during the mission.
Because the task of taking the payloads to the Moon is competitively awarded, she said, the payloads should not be designed with a particular provider in mind. And because the task orders are for a firm fixed price, it is important that the interfaces and requirements be well defined before the request for a task
order proposal is released. Thus, it is preferable, she said, that people working with the CLPS program communicate with the CLPS office to be clear on what the capabilities are.
When NASA is considering payloads for the CLPS program, Schonfeld said, it keeps in mind how expensive it will likely be to accommodate the requirements of a particular payload. “We’re hiring a service,” she said, “and there are certain aspects that are going to be very difficult to accommodate, and that is going to drive up the cost of the contracts, and that’s going to come into play when NASA is deciding whether or not they can manifest a payload.” Some of the factors that could lead to it being more expensive for a vendor to accommodate a payload are highly complex geometries, very tight pointing requirements, overlapping or complex fields of view, and having a large number of mode changes. Needing really high power can also be an issue, she said, but it will depend on the nature of the mission and how many payloads there are.
Conversely, NASA also considers potential return on the investment for a particular payload. Schonfeld added, if NASA considers the science critical, that will also come into play. Providing additional details about the CLPS workshops held prior to the release of the draft request for task proposals, Schonfeld said that their workshops are a great opportunity for those with payloads to speak with the vendors, describing their instruments, what they are trying to achieve, and what they will need. The CLPS team also offers an overview of the intended solicitation, including a discussion of the evaluation criteria. It is a good opportunity for the providers to learn as much as possible about the payloads before offering a proposal, she said.
Once the task has been awarded to a particular vendor, Schonfeld said, the first thing will be for the vendor to hold a face-to-face kickoff meeting with those having payloads on the mission. From there, the events follow a predictable pattern leading up to the launch. In essence, the process starts with payload design, then moves to development, assembly, and, last, testing. Ultimately, the hardware is integrated into the lander and tested, and then the lander gets integrated into the launch vehicle.
One thing to keep in mind, Schonfeld said, is that while the CLPS provider is responsible for the integration of the payload with the lander, those who are putting their payloads on the mission are responsible for supporting that integration and they will be interacting substantially with the providers throughout the entire development cycle.
BEST PRACTICES FOR LUNAR SCIENCE: LESSONS FROM A CLPS PROVIDER
Next, Mahoney and Kuhns from Masten Space Systems spoke about the CLPS program from a provider’s point of view. Mahoney spoke first. He began by noting that CLPS is still a new program and there are still hiccups. However, a lot of effort is going into making sure that the process makes sense, is equitable, and addresses all of the different needs of different groups. “This is an invitation to join all of us that are working on making this stuff happen,” he said. “There are things we’ve got to figure out, but that’s fine because the NASA sponsors, the payload sponsors, and the providers are working together to make this thing happen.” He asked the members of the workshop to contact someone if they see ways to improve the program.
This new era of access to the Moon through CLPS is not just about dollars, Mahoney said—not just about a less expensive way to get to the Moon. Instead, he said, there is now an entirely new paradigm for going to the Moon. “I hate using the phrase ‘paradigm shift,’ but that’s honestly what’s going on.” Some things are being given up with the new approach, but other capabilities are becoming possible. Because this new approach requires new ways of thinking, Mahoney offered what he referred to as “ridiculously oversimplified guidance.”
First, “speed is your ally.” It is important to iterate quickly, he explained. This was not necessarily the best practice in the past, but with CLPS one needs to be able to update designs quickly. This allows a researcher to find a way to grab hold of opportunities as they become available. An imperfect instrument on the Moon is better than a perfect instrument sitting in a lab on Earth.
Second, “risk is your friend.” There is sometimes a “perverse incentive” to not do a test, he said, because it might show that something does not work. People need to accept that risk, shed their aversion to learning, and move forward.
Last, “testing is truth.” Simulations certainly have an important role to play, Mahoney explained, but ultimately one needs to have “real ground truth” to check and inform the simulations.
The opportunity to go to the Moon is real, Mahoney emphasized. Masten Mission One, scheduled for 2022, will be carrying eight different instruments. Nor is this just a one-shot deal, he said. NASA plans two CLPS missions per year for the foreseeable future, and those will be accompanied by many NASA missions to the Moon. This includes multiple Artemis missions and a large number of visits by the Human Landing System, scheduled to begin in 2024, returning humans to the Moon. “Of course, the schedule is going to change,” Mahoney said, “but the thing is really real.” With that, Mahoney handed off to Kuhns to finish the presentation.
Kuhns began by describing the major lesson that Masten has learned over 17 years in working to get to the Moon: “Test, test, and test some more, so you can iterate quickly. Nothing shows how well something actually works like putting it on a rocket in a relevant environment.”
One thing Masten does is work with researchers to develop their designs for an experiment on the Moon. Kuhns described that process (Figure 3.3). It begins with an idea, Kuhns said, “and you can then reach out to us, and we can help coordinate proposals for taking those napkin sketches and scientific instruments from the lab and converting them into a payload for flight.” After coordinating with Masten on a proposal, the next step is to build the payload and then integrate it into the Masten vehicle and carry out a flight test. “Basically, everybody who test flies through the flight opportunities program learns very interesting and applicable lessons for finding the next iteration of their technology,” he said. After any necessary redesign and retesting, a researcher has a design that is ready to be shown to the PRISM program or perhaps the Tipping Point program. If the proposal is approved, the researcher will be paired with a CLPS provider. Masten has flown a large number of payloads in this development program that are
now going to the Moon and other planets, he said. He added that this work Masten does with scientists in developing payloads is “CLPS provider agnostic”—the payloads are ready for transport by any of the CLPS providers.
As a case study, Kuhns briefly described the PlanetVac technology developed by Honeybee Robotics. It carries out pneumatic sample collection, and it is headed both to the Moon and Phobos, a Martian moon. The development and testing of the technology was a real group effort, Kuhns said, with support from the Planetary Society, NASA, Masten, as well as some public support via Kickstarter. Masten carried out testing of the technology in the field. “We did a little hop, collected a sample, and took off, and demonstrates that everything stayed where it was supposed to be in the sample container,” he said. That version of the technology is headed to Phobos.
Lessons from that effort were used to improve the technology, with Masten offering some ideas and coordinating with Honeybee to develop a CLPS proposal. That version is heading to the Moon with a CLPS vendor other than Masten, but Kuhns said that is okay. “We’re helping everybody advance,” he said. “All tides are rising together.”
Looking to the future, Kuhns said that a number of innovations are expected in the coming decade, including reusable vehicles, sample return, preplaced large equipment and infrastructure, landing pads, and technologies that survive the lunar night. “So we have lots of very exciting technologies that we’re working on, and we hope that we can develop that with you.”
A question was posed during the discussion period concerning who has responsibility for developing the hardware and software for a payload. Mahoney said that because all of this is so new, people are still working out exactly who is responsible for what task, between the researchers building the payload and the CLPS provider that takes that payload to the Moon and supports its operation. “Some folks come in and have things more mature,” he said. “Other folks bring in an instrument and [ask] can you take care of this for me?” Each project is different.
EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY STRATEGY FOR SCIENCE AT THE MOON AND COOPERATION WITH NASA THROUGH CLPS
The last speaker, Hatton, described the lunar science strategy of the ESA and how CLPS fits with that. That lunar strategy is part of a larger exploration program, the European Exploration Envelope Program (E3P), which has targeted three destinations: low Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars. Underlying all of this is an integrated research strategy. The lunar portion of that program has identified a number of research areas that ESA will target over the next decade, Hatton said. These ESA goals include obtaining samples from the Moon to study its geology; polar exploration, with a focus on ices and volatiles at the poles; geophysics, the identification of resources, radio astronomy and astrophysics, the interaction between the Moon’s surface and space, and how the lunar environment affects biology, both in terms of basic research in astrobiology and living and working on the Moon.
Discussions with NASA have shown that there is a close alignment between ESA’s and NASA’s scientific interests, Hatton said. There has been interest in finding various ways to collaborate. One possible area of cooperation is with ESA’s European Large Logistics Lander, which is under development. Another is Artemis, a U.S.-led international program whose aim is to return humans to the surface of the Moon. CLPS, too, holds promise for cooperation. ESA sees CLPS as a “multiplying factor,” Hatton said, “because it allows the possibility of, say, implementing instruments we’ve already developed or missions of opportunity on this series of missions.” The ESA is now examining a number of possibilities for such cooperation.
At present, he said, there are three instruments in various stages of implementation on which ESA is working with CLPS for delivery to the lunar surface. The first is the Exosphere Mass Spectrometer, scheduled to be delivered to the lunar surface by Astrobiotic, a CLPS vender, in December 2021. The spectrometer will be used to analyze the composition of the lunar atmosphere. It is designed to fit into a NASA wrapper that provides a mechanical interface plate, thermal control, and a deployable cover.
A second instrument is Prospect, which is designed to drill into the lunar surface and provide a comprehensive analysis of volatiles found at the Moon’s poles. The difficulty in carrying out such analyses, Hatton explained, is that a rotating drill creates friction, which heats up whatever it is drilling into. This heat could cause the volatiles of interest to vaporize and disappear. Thus, the drill system is kept at –150°C. The instrument was designed for use in the Russian Luna-27 mission, but it can also be deployed by CLPS, which will provide “a multiplying factor in terms of our overall resource strategy,” Hatton said.
The third instrument that may be placed on a CLPS mission is a laser retroreflector to enable laser ranging from Earth to the lunar surface. One major area in which ESA could take advantage of the CLPS program in the future, Hatton said, is biological sciences on the Moon. This is an area of active research for ESA, with the goal of understanding the responses of biological systems to the space environment. To that end, CLPS landers could provide opportunities for biological exposure experiments. However, Hatton said, it will be necessary for commercial landers to develop some additional capabilities, such as maintaining power and thermal control across the lunar night and being able to return samples from the lunar surface.