Firefly Aerospace announced May 20 that it had selected the SpaceX Falcon 9 to launch its Blue Ghost lunar lander.
Expected to be launched in 2023, the Blue Ghost lander, named after a rare firefly, will carry 10 NASA payloads as part of a $93.3-million Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract. The lander will also carry a selection of commercial payloads.
Although Firefly is working on its own launch vehicle, it is designed to deliver small payloads into low Earth orbit and is not powerful enough to launch a payload to the Moon. According to Firefly vice president Shea Ferring, the Falcon 9 was selected to launch the Blue Ghost lander due to its reliability and performance.
“The high performance of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle permits a lunar transit using minimal Blue Ghost propulsion resources, thereby allowing the lander to deliver more than 150 kg of payload to the lunar surface,” said Ferring.
Once launched, the Blue Ghost lander will touch down in the Mare Crisium basin on the Moon’s near side.
According to a Firefly release, the lander will remain active through a full lunar day (14 Earth days) and “well into the freezing dark of lunar night.” However, the Blue Ghost user guide states that it is designed to only operate “as long as it is illuminated, up to 14 days in most locations.”
The 10 NASA payloads are expected to account for 100 kilograms of the total payload capacity of the Blue Ghost lander. This will leave 50 kilograms of excess payload capacity that Firefly is offering to commercial customers. Firefly has yet to announce a commercial customer that will fly aboard the lander.
Firefly is one of several companies to win NASA’s CLPS contracts that have selected SpaceX Falcon rockets as their preferred launch vehicle. Intuitive Machine’s Nova-C moon lander will be launched aboard a Falcon 9 while the Astrobotic Technology Griffin lander will hitch a ride to the Moon aboard a Falcon Heavy.