NASA's lunar mission to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024 and create a permanent presence there could bring big bucks to the Space Coast.
The program is called Artemis and it hinges on NASA's idea to build Gateway, an orbiting lunar outpost that will serve as a pit stop between Earth and the moon.
"Gateway is essential to Artemis," said Mark Wiese, manager of NASA's Gateway logistics program. "Think about all the tourists that come to Central Florida. They land at the airport. They don't go straight to one of our attractions. They come set up a home base at a hotel or resort. That home base is Gateway. It allows you to then go explore everything the moon has to offer."
Right now Wiese and his team are considering bids from multiple companies that are hoping to get a piece of a 15-year contract worth up to $7 billion to shuttle cargo and fuel to the Gateway, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.
"We are working faster than we've ever worked before. We're hoping to award these contracts by the end of the calendar year," he said.
The contracts could have a significant impact on the local economy because the winning companies will likely relocate all or part of their operations to the Space Coast.
"If you're going to make space cheaper, you have to simplify the supply chain so if we can get more of their business here locally in Florida, the quicker and easier it will be as space just starts to tick and accelerate more and more," Wiese said.
On Monday, Wiese met with business leaders at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's "Future Forum" in Orlando to connect with the community and encourage competition.
"We need to make sure we're driving innovation across the state so that we are constantly at the leading edge of making sure this is a sustainable campaign and for the next decade and beyond, we are leading that supply chain, pushing further and further in space."
Gateway is already being built and will be assembled in space over a couple of years before any astronauts arrive. The first piece of Gateway is the power propulsion element made by Maxar Technologies of California and it will launch in 2022.
A year later, Northrop Grumman will send HALO, the habitation and logistics outpost to space to dock with the power propulsion element. The third element is the Logistics Services Program, which will manage cargo deliveries to Gateway.
Then, astronauts will arrive aboard the Orion capsule in 2024. It's an ambitious schedule but one that Weise says is driving them.
“We have this amazing charge to go back to the moon by 2024 and it’s really invigorated everybody,” he said, “We’re NASA. Trying to do things that are difficult is in our veins. So someone gives us a hard challenge, that’s what fires us up and we’re excited to make this happen.”