Astrobotic makes bid to buy assets of bankrupt Masten

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic, a startup focused on building lunar and planetary unmanned landers, has now made a formal bid to buy the remaining assets of Masten Space Systems, which had also been a startup focused on planetary missions but recently went bankrupt.

In a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Delaware Aug. 14, Masten said it received a “stalking horse” bid of $4.2 million for Masten’s assets, including a SpaceX launch credit worth $14 million, from Astrobotic. The agreement, in effect, sets a minimum price for the sale of those assets but does not prevent Masten from seeking higher bids through an auction process that runs through early September.

The agreement appears to supersede an earlier agreement between Masten and a third lunar lander company, Intuitive Machines, included in Masten’s Chapter 11 filing July 28. That agreement covered the SpaceX launch credits alone and Masten did not disclose the value of it in its original filing.

Masten’s long term specialty has been vertical take-off and landing, something it has successfully done for the last several years on suborbital flights. This technology would be of great value to both Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines in developing their own first lunar landers.

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.

Masten unveils two new reusable suborbital rockets

The competition heats up: Masten Space Systems has unveiled two new small reusable suborbital rockets, designed to be used for short research flights.

The new unmanned rockets can take off and land vertically, can be reused in a short amount of time, and and hover in mid-air. The approximately 15-foot rockets are a lot smaller than the reusable rockets that Blue Origin and SpaceX are launching, landing, and (in Blue Origin’s case) already reusing. They can’t travel as high or carry nearly as heavy of a payload, but they could prove to be useful for gathering science data in suborbital space.

The link has a short video showing the rockets in operation. Very impressive, even if small.

DARPA awards contracts for XS-1 spaceplane

The competition heats up: DARPA has announced contract awards to three companies for the construction of its experimental XS-1 spaceplane, designed to take off and land like a airplane.

The contracts go to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Masten Space Systems, and have them each respectively partnered with Blue Origin, XCOR, and Virgin Galactic. More details on the Boeing contract can be found here.

The description of the XS program is quite exciting:
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