NASA has chosen a new lunar surface delivery partner from its list of Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) vendors to actually transport stuff on its behalf – Mojave’s Masten Space Systems, which is being tapped by the agency to take eight payloads, including non science and tech instruments, to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022.
Masten is the fourth company awarded a lunar delivery contract under CLPS, after NASA announced that three other companies would be tasked with taking payloads back in May, 2019. Those included Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, as well as Orbit Beyond. Orbit Beyond later dropped out of its contract, though Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are still aiming to deliver their payloads using landers they’ve created sometime next year.
The new Masten contract, like the others in the CLOPS program, is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which seeks to return human tot he surface of the Moon, and set up permanent scientific exploration there, with the ultimate aim of using it as a stepping stone to taking humans to Mars and potentially beyond. NASA has focused on public-private partnerships like those formed through the CLPS program to assist it in making its Moon and Mars missions possible, and bringing commercial interests along for the ride.
Masten’s contract is a $75.9 million award, that specifies end-to-end delevirey of the payloads, as well as their integration with the company’s XL-1 lander. They’re also required to land on the Moon and operate for at least 12 days post-landing. The specific instruments that XL-1 will carry include tools for measuring and mapping the lunar surface temperature, as well as radiation, and the presence of hydrogen and other gases that could indicate the presence of water.
The XL-1 lander developed by Masten is an evolution of lander designs that took part in, and won the NASA Centennial Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X-Prize Challenge in 2009. Masten has also developed and flown a number of vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) rockets on behalf of NASA, including the Xaero test vehicle.