Nasa has selected nine companies to bid for its commercial payloads delivery services to the Moon.

The selected companies include Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.

All shortlisted companies are based in US and can place their bids under Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts.

The successful bidder will deliver science and technology payloads on behalf of Nasa and other companies as part of missions launched from Earth to Moon.

Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Today’s announcement marks tangible progress in America’s return to the Moon’s surface to stay.

“The innovation of America’s aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars.”

“The innovation of America’s aerospace companies are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars.”

The latest selection follows the request for proposals issued by Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD).

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It marks the first step in supporting long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and ultimately Mars.

The contracts are also expected to help Nasa to regularly send instruments, experiments, and other small payloads to the Moon to achieve various science and technology objectives.

Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts have a combined value of up to $2.6bn over the next ten years.

The agency will look into a variety of factors, including technical feasibility, price and schedule before awarding the final contracts.

Nasa launched a call for proposals on potential lunar instruments to study the Moon in October this year and expects to receive proposals next January.

These missions are anticipated to demonstrate technology that will provide input on the development of future landers and other exploration systems for humans to return to the Moon.

The first lunar payloads delivery mission is expected as early as next year.