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Masten lays off staff, apparently shuts down

Capitalism in space: The small lunar lander company Masten Space Systems, which for years has worked to develop vertical rocket landing technology and has a $75.9 million contract with NASA to put a rover on the Moon, has apparently furloughed its staff and shut down operations.

The XL-1 lander was originally scheduled to launch in December 2022 bound for a landing at the moon’s south pole. In June 2021, Masten announced an 11-month launch delay to November 2023. The company said the delay was caused by industry-wide supply chain disruptions and the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

CLPS partners are expected to supplement NASA mission funding by carrying payloads for other parties. The source who requested anonymity said that is where Masten’s mission ran into problems. “We ran out of money after grossly underbidding. The estimate was $105 million but I was told that we had found a 30 million dollar private customer who wanted to fly with us,” the source said.

However, that customer later pulled out the venture. Subsequent attempts to fill the gap failed, the source added.

Masten is one of four companies with similar NASA lunar lander contracts. The others, Astrobotic, Firefly, and Intuitive Machines, all have scheduled missions planned, all of which however have been delayed for a variety of reasons.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • David K

    They say that the best way to make a small fortune with a rocket company is to start with a large one.

    Actually that’s the second best way. The best way is to be named Elon Musk, but that’s a fairly uncommon name.

    On a more serious note, Elon’s main achievement with SpaceX is not in rocket science. He borrowed the basic engine designs for both Merlin and Raptor from USAF and Soviet engine prototypes respectively.

    In my opinion his main innovations are in bringing manufacturing engineering and marketing to the industry in a way that has never been done before.

  • Concerned

    David K: Musk himself has admitted your point—he’s been quoted that it is an order of magnitude or more difficult to manufacture rockets (and cars) than to design one. Case in point: Blue Origin with their endlessly delayed New Glenn and BE-4 engine.
    There’s a video on the web about how manufacturing even a simple wooden pencil is a nontrivial process.

  • Jeff Wright

    This is why folks run from aerospace—the massive up-front costs.

    You make your money with computer start-ups—you spend it on aerospace.

    Few do so.

    I lament MASTEN.

    Musk is the one Lorenzo de’ Medici…the patron Saint of spaceflight. But when I think of true…seat of your pants space start-ups—I think Masten.

    They deserved better.

  • Edward

    David K opined: “In my opinion his main innovations are in bringing manufacturing engineering and marketing to the industry in a way that has never been done before.

    Actually, the early rocket companies did their engineering, development, and manufacturing in a similar manner. It was only in the past few decades that these companies chose to treat space as a government boondoggle. SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and a few other new companies are going back to the old methods of rapid development, easy availability, and affordable launches, trying to make progress in an area where progress is sorely needed. Again.

    SpaceX’s main contribution to the industry is reusability and rapid, inexpensive turnaround, which results in flexible availability for their next launch, goals sought ever since the conception of the Space Shuttle (which was executed poorly due to politics). Commercial space is excelling where government space has failed.

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