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NASA Selects Firefly Aerospace for Robotic Moon Mission

NASA has chosen Firefly Aerospace to carry multiple payloads to the surface of the far side of the Moon, and a satellite to lunar orbit.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Mar 14 2023Written by Zac Aubert

NASA has chosen Firefly Aerospace to carry multiple payloads to the surface of the far side of the Moon, and a satellite to lunar orbit.

The $112 million contract award is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative and the agency’s Artemis program. The commercial lander will deliver two agency payloads, as well as a communication and data relay satellite for lunar orbit, which is a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. Firefly will be responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, delivery from Earth to the surface and orbit of the Moon, and NASA payload operations for the first lunar day. This is the second award to Firefly under the CLPS initiative. This award is the ninth surface delivery task award issued to a CLPS vendor, and the second to the far side.

This delivery is targeting a landing site on the far side of the Moon, one of the best locations in the solar system for making radio observations shielded from the noise generated by Earth. The sensitive observations need to take place during the fourteen earth-day long lunar night.

One of the payloads will make low-frequency astrophysics measurements of the cosmos, focusing on a cosmic era that began some 370,000 years after the Big Bang and lasted until the first stars and galaxies formed. Since there is no line of sight and no direct communication with Earth from the far side of the Moon, Firefly is required to provide communication services.

"This lunar landing should enable new scientific discoveries from the far side of the Moon during the lunar night. This particular group of payloads should not only generate new science but should be a pathfinder for future investigations exploiting this unique vantage point in our solar system.” - Joel Kearns, Deputy Associate Administrator NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

The three payloads slated for delivery are expected to weigh in total about 1,090 pounds (494.5 kilograms). The Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night) will be a pathfinder to understand the Moon’s radio environment and to potentially take a first look at a previously unobserved era in our cosmic history. The Lunar Pathfinder will provide communication services to lunar missions, and the User Terminal will institute a new standard for S-Band Proximity-1 space communication protocol and establish space heritage.

Future CLPS deliveries could include more science experiments and technology demonstrations that further support NASA’s Artemis program.