NASA orders research from private companies to support future missions to Mars. This is reported by TechCrunch.

The agency has selected nine companies to conduct research on the ability to provide services as part of missions to the Red Planet. These include cargo delivery and communication relay.

Although each award is relatively small – from $200 thousand to $300 thousand – these studies are an important first step for NASA to better understand the costs, risks, and feasibility of commercial technologies.

The selected companies are: Lockheed Martin, Impulse Space, and Firefly Aerospace for small cargo delivery and placement services; United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin, and Astrobotic for large cargo delivery and placement services; Albedo, Redwire Space, and Astrobotic for Mars surface imaging services; SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and Blue Origin for the next-generation series of repeaters.

The studies will last for 12 weeks and will be completed in August. However, there is no guarantee that they will lead to the potential award of contracts. However, it is equally unlikely that future contracts will be awarded without prior research by the companies applying for them.

The companies were selected based on a request for proposals that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory issued earlier this year. The idea is to develop a new concept for Mars exploration that will provide “more frequent and cheaper missions” through a partnership between government and industry.