Astrobotic acquires bankrupt Masten

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic announced this week that it has successfully purchased Masten, a bankrupt company that for almost two decades specialized in developing suborbital vertical rocket landing technology.

This acquisition will combine the workforce of the two companies, and give Astrobotic control over Masten’s test sites at Mojave. Since Astrobotic is one of the many companies with a NASA contract to build lunar landers, the experience of Masten’s workers — experienced experts in vertical rocket landings — will be immeasurable.

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.

SpaceX wins launch contract for unmanned lunar lander

Capitalism in space: Masten Space Systems has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its unmanned lunar lander, being built to carry nine NASA science payloads to the south pole of the Moon.

Launch is tentatively scheduled for late ’22.

NASA will be an anchor customer for the mission but Masten intends to sign up others. “There is a tremendous amount of interest,” he said, including from both the public and private sector, although he didn’t mention any specific potential customers.

Mahoney said the level of customer interest soared after Masten won the CLPS award and had a firm schedule for the mission. “Once the CLPS award was made and we crossed from speculative to having a schedule, the tenor and tone of our conversations have changed dramatically.”

The limiting factor for the lander mission has not been the amount of mass available for payloads, he said, but instead positions on the lander that have views of the surface desired by payloads. “There’s a game of positioning among the various instruments so that they can get the view angles that they need and not interfere,” he said.

However, he said the company isn’t considering major changes in the lander’s design to accommodate payloads. “The design principle is the ‘pickup truck’ that can haul a bunch of different things,” he said. “We’re trying to escape the completely unique, bespoke system that does one job and one mission really well.”

I guarantee that at least one university student-built payload will end up on the lander.

Masten’s lunar lander wins NASA contract

Capitalism in space: Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander has won a NASA contract to bring a suite of science instruments to the Moon’s south polar regions, the launch targeted for December 2022.

The company also hopes to sell payload space on the lander to other customers.

Masten won a task order for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program valued at $75.9 million. Masten will deliver nine science and technology demonstration payloads to the lunar surface near the south pole by December 2022 on the company’s XL-1 lander.

The CLPS payloads, with a mass of about 80 kilograms, will serve as the initial, anchor customer for that mission, Sean Mahoney, chief executive of Masten, said in an interview. He said there are “hundreds” of kilograms of additional payload space available on the lander, and that the company is working to line up additional customers.

Masten is now the third private company with an active contract with NASA to land science payloads on the Moon. Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are the others, with their missions targeting 2021 for launch.