NASA just cut a 10-cent check to kick-start moon mining tech

NASA Administrator BIll Nelson presents Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus with a check for 10 cents.  (Image credit: Space Foundation)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- NASA has cut a 10 cent check to space startup Lunar Outpost in the first-ever payment to a company to mine the moon

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson presented Justin Cyrus, CEO of Colorado-based space startup Lunar Outpost, with the first payment ever issued to a company as part of a space resource contract announced Aug. 23 here at the 36th annual Space Symposium. The check, which was just 10 cents, or 10 percent of Lunar Outpost's $1 bid, and will go towards the company's efforts to collect lunar dust, or regolith, for the agency. 

"We had contractual terms with them when they produce their first element. We would give them 10% of their contract award. I am happy to present a check for 10% of their bid. Justin, here's a check for 10 cents," Nelson said. 

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"This sets a legal and procedural framework that will be utilized for generations and decades to come for companies like ours and many others to go out and collect resources from the lunar surface from other planetary bodies and make them basically useful for humanity," Cyrus said. 

Lunar Outpost has previously "developed an air quality sensor to meet NASA's need to contain hazardous moon dust," Nelson explained Monday during a press briefing at Space Symposium. This work has "led to a technology that senses pollutants on earth to protect firefighters." 

Now, as part of this contract, the company will "collect a small amount of moon dust, verify the collection and transfer the ownership of that lunar regolith," Nelson said. "Space resources will play a key role in NASA's Artemis program and the future of space exploration. The ability to extract and use extra terrestrial resources will ensure Artemis operations can be conducted safely and sustainably in support of human exploration."

Nelson pointed to the future of lunar resource utilization, with the expected possibility that future missions to the moon could use lunar regolith to create a type of "cement" to build facilities and water ice to create rocket fuel or use for other purposes. 

The startup plans to demonstrate that they are able to land on the surface of the moon's south pole, where resources and water ice are expected to be plentiful, and collect those resources. 

"We will be collecting 100 grams of just lunar regolith," Cyrus estimated to at the briefing, adding that they will not separate the material during the collection. 

However, he added "we are also looking for volatiles and water ice." The company is still looking for the right technology to bring on board to make this happen and for "exciting payloads," as Cyrus described them, that they could add to the mission to use to study the environment on the moon's surface. 

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.