By Joey Roulette
MELBOURNE, Fla. (Reuters) - NASA has picked space technology company Maxar Technologies Inc as the first contractor to help build its Gateway platform in lunar orbit, a crucial outpost for America's mission to relay astronauts to the moon in 2024, the U.S. agency said on Thursday.
Shares of Westminster, Colorado-based Maxar jumped more than 20% following the announcement by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at a meeting sponsored by a Florida college.
The firm-fixed price award carries a maximum total value of $375 million, NASA said in a news release.
The Trump administration has made a return to the moon a high priority for the U.S. space program, saying the mission would establish a foundation for an eventual journey to put humans on Mars.
Vice President Mike Pence's March 26 announcement that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the moon's south pole by 2024 "by any means necessary," four years earlier than previously planned.
Maxar Technologies, formerly SSL, will develop power, propulsion and communications components for the lunar mobile command and service module, NASA said.
The power and propulsion element is a 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft, three times more powerful than current capabilities, NASA said.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Melbourne, Florida; Writing by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Richard Chang and Susan Thomas)