NASA is seeking help from the private sector to collect samples of moon dust and rock and bring them back to Earth.
As part of its ambitious Artemis program to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024, the U.S. space agency said it is soliciting help from commercial sources to gain more information about the environment of the lunar surface.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the new initiative in a blogpost Thursday, writing that "leveraging commercial involvement as part of Artemis will enhance our ability to safely return to the Moon in a sustainable, innovative, and affordable fashion."
He said the agency is asking commercial companies to "provide proposals for the collection of space resources."
"The requirements we’ve outlined are that a company will collect a small amount of Moon 'dirt' or rocks from any location on the lunar surface, provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material, along with data that identifies the collection location, and conduct an 'in-place' transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith or rocks to NASA," Bridenstine wrote.
After the ownership transfer, the collected material will become the sole property of NASA.
"The solicitation creates a full and open competition, not limited to U.S. companies, and the agency may make one or more awards," Bridenstine added.
The goal is to obtain and transfer the materials to NASA before 2024. NASA did not outline how much it will pay, but said the companies will receive 10% of the sum when they are awarded the task, 10% at launch and the remaining 80% upon successful completion.
Bridenstine said the program is consistent with international space law, citing President Donald Trump's April executive order that Bridenstine said "clarifies" that "it is the policy of the United States to encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law."
Bridenstine also said all proposals must be in full compliance with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and other international obligations.
"We are putting our policies into practice to fuel a new era of exploration and discovery that will benefit all of humanity," Bridenstine said.
The effort comes on the heels of NASA's successful Commercial Crew program, which launched astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in May with the help of Elon Musk's private space exploration company SpaceX.
Companies interested in submitting proposals to NASA can find more information on how to do so here.