ORLANDO, Fla., Nov 29 (Reuters) - NASA on Thursday named nine U.S. companies, including Lockheed Martin Corp, that will compete for funding under the space agency's renewed long-term moon program, a private-public undertaking to develop technology that will explore the lunar surface.
The companies, some which will develop small launch vehicles and robotic rovers over the next 10 years, will vie for a chunk of the $2.6 billion under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
As soon as 2022, NASA expects to begin construction on a new space station laboratory that will orbit the moon and act as a pit stop for missions to deeper parts of our solar system, such as Mars.
"When we go to the moon, we want to be one customer of many customers in a robust marketplace between the earth and the moon," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a news briefing on Thursday.
"Lunar payloads could fly on these contracted missions as early as 2019," NASA said in an earlier news release.
In addition to Lockheed Martin, NASA selected Draper, which developed computers for the Apollo missions, Astrobotic Technology Inc, Firefly Aerospace Inc, Moon Express and four others to potentially develop equipment for the program.
Reporting by Joey Roulette in Orlando, Florida; editing by Bill Berkrot