Nasa has selected Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Orbit Beyond to deliver its scientific instruments to the Moon’s surface as part of the Artemis programme.

The companies will deliver up to 23 total payloads to the Moon on three commercial lunar lander missions between September 2020 and July 2021.

The payloads provided by Nasa will be used to carry out science investigations and demonstrate advanced technologies on the lunar surface.

Astrobotic of Pittsburgh has secured $79.5m to fly approximately 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, by July 2021.

Under the $77m contract, Houston-based Intuitive Machines has proposed to fly five payloads to Moon’s dark spot called Oceanus Procellarum by July 2021.

New Jersey-based Orbit Beyond of Edison has won $97m to fly four payloads to Mare Imbrium, a lava plain in one of the Moon’s craters, by September 2020.

Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Our selection of these US commercial landing service providers represents America’s return to the Moon’s surface for the first time in decades, and it’s a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans.

“It’s a huge step forward for our Artemis lunar exploration plans.”

“Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface, which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the Moon in five years. Investing in these commercial landing services also is another strong step to build a commercial space economy beyond low-Earth orbit.”

All three companies will provide complete commercial payload delivery services to Nasa, including payload integration and operations, launch from Earth and landing on the lunar surface.