The CLPS mission will be the first such deep-space agency partnership. The first one could fly next year and NASA hopes to send two useful loads each year over the next ten years. It is not yet clear what NASA is expected to do, although the first call for proposals should come out in the coming weeks or months.
Most participating companies have never penetrated the spacecraft of this complexity and scale, and Bridenstine has acknowledged that some of the CLPS missions are unlikely to achieve a "soft" landing on the surface of the moon.
"It's a venture capital venture," he told reporters. "At the end of the day, the risk is high, but the return is also very low for a low investment."
"It's a great experiment," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for Science.
The relatively small and inexpensive payload provided by the CLPS program will follow traditional mid-size and large class missions, Bridenstine said, including any crew mission to the Moon.
US President Donald Trump named the mission of the American astronauts to the Moon as a destination for his administration. Its Space Policy Directive 1, signed in December, directs NASA to work with the private sector to return to the Moon on its way to a long-term mission to Mars.
But no US spacecraft touched the months since Apollo's last mission in 1972, and it was exactly 50 years since NASA last sent a robotic mission to the surface of the moon. Earlier this year, NASA shocked scientists by canceling the Resource Prospector, the only US lunar rover currently under development.
Yet the Earth's only natural satellite is studied by other nations; China's Chinese Mission Changes 4 and 5, which would bring the rover to the Moon, and a specimen of samples from the surface, is scheduled for next year. India and Israel are also planning to land on Lunar Landing Plans next year.
Notary monthly geologist Clive Neal, who is the emeritus chair of the independent Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, was cautiously optimistic about the CLPS science challenges. Many Researchers of the Moon were disappointed with the abolition of Resource Prospector – "I'm still," Neal said.
But he was delighted that the partnership with the aerospace industry could tighten the moon. Zurbuchen said on Thursday that the Mobile Lunar Lab remains one of NASA's exploration targets for the moon, though such a mission would probably be a traditional process.
He also said that NASA hopes to be just one of several customers who provide a payload for these business missions. Carpooling on the moon – perhaps with academics or other companies – should cut costs, he said.
The announcement of CLPS comes as NASA conducts a security review of two large private partners, SpaceX and Boeing. Both companies are contract members to fly cosmonauts at the International Space Station, but have suffered a failure and delay in their work in the development of their spaceships. SpaceX specifically explored after founder Elon Musk took a marijuana hit and drank whiskey on a podcast. None of the companies is selected for eligibility for CLPS.