NASA announced February 5 that it had awarded Firefly Aerospace with a $93.3 million contract to deliver ten science and technology demonstration payloads to the surface of the Moon by 2023.
The contract was awarded under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, a program that enables the agency to secure space aboard commercial lunar landers rather than building, launching, and managing missions to the Moon themselves.
Once launched, the Firefly Aerospace Blue Ghost mission is slated to touch down in the Mare Crisium (the Sea of Crises) region, a low-lying basin on the near-side of the Moon.
The ten NASA payloads will account for a combined 94 kilograms of the Blue Ghost’s approximate 150-kilogram payload capacity. According to Firefly, the company’s maiden mission to the Moon has up to 50 kilograms of additional payload capacity, which the company is currently offering to commercial partners.
All ten of the NASA payloads are focused on assisting with preparing for human missions to the lunar surface as part of the agency’s Artemis program. Despite the common cause, the individual goals of the payloads are unique and varied.
“The payloads we’re sending as part of this delivery service span across multiple areas, from investigating the lunar soil and testing a sample capture technology, to giving us information about the Moon’s thermal properties and magnetic field,” said Chris Culbert, who manages the CLPS initiative at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
The Firefly Blue Ghost mission is the fifth awarded as part of the CLPS initiative. The first three contracts were awarded in May 2019 with Astrobotic Technology, Intuitive Machines, and OrbitBeyond as the beneficiaries, the latter of which subsequently pulled out of its contract due to “internal corporate challenges.”
The first CLPS mission is expected to be launched aboard an Astrobotic Technology Peregrine lunar lander later in July this year.