Firefly approves design of its unmanned lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Firefly has completed and approved the design of its unmanned lunar lander, and will now begin construction with a launch date targeting 2023.

Firefly said Monday that it has completed the “critical design review” phase of its program to develop a lunar lander. This means the company can now proceed to build and order components for the “Blue Ghost” spacecraft and begin its assembly. Firefly aims to launch the spacecraft as the primary payload on a Falcon 9 rocket in the fall of 2023.

NASA is sponsoring the mission as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program, through which it pays private companies to deliver scientific experiments to the Moon. NASA is paying $93.3 million for this Blue Ghost mission, which will carry 10 payloads down to the Mare Crisium lunar basin in September 2023.

In the next three years a plethora of commercial unmanned lunar landers have scheduled flights, all bringing both NASA science as well commercial payloads to the lunar surface. All are being designed and built by private companies. Expect some to fail. Some however will succeed, and will thus establish themselves as the go-to companies if you want to put a payload on the Moon.

NASA awards Firefly lunar contract

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday announced that it has awarded the new smallsat rocket company Firefly a $93 million contract to build a lunar lander for delivering scientific payloads to the Moon’s surface.

This is the first delivery awarded to Firefly Aerospace, which will provide the lunar delivery service using its Blue Ghost lander, which the company designed and developed at its Cedar Park facility. This facility also will house the integration of NASA and any non-NASA payloads, and also will serve as the company’s mission operations center for the 2023 delivery.

The lander is based on the design of Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander that failed in its landing attempt in 2019. After that failure a group of Israeli engineers from that project formed their own company, and partnered with Firefly to build a new lander, which is now dubbed Blue Ghost.

The NASA contract itself replaces OrbitBeyond, which had won a lunar landing contract initially but had backed out in 2019.

Finally, the timing of this announcement immediately after Firefly had revamped its board of directors to remove its main Ukrainian backer from an obvious management position is most telling. Suggests to me that they did that revamping in direct response to NASA’s concerns, and once done NASA could then move forward with the contract award.