In February, NASA awarded Firefly Aerospace $93.3 million to develop moon mission technology. Part of that funding was to put a lander on the moon, and Firefly has announced that it has chosen SpaceX to launch that first lander mission for NASA. The new contract marks the most recent win by SpaceX as it appears to be the go-to choice for putting missions into space.
SpaceX will use its Falcon 9 to launch the Firefly Blue Ghost lunar lander in 2023 on a mission that will see the lander placed on the lunar surface in Mare Crisium on the near side of the moon. The lander will have ten payloads onboard from the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services program under a contract that Firefly won in February. Additional commercial payloads will also be aboard the spacecraft.
Firefly Aerospace won’t need SpaceX or other companies to put its payloads into orbit at some point in the future. The company is currently developing its launch vehicle called Alpha. The first launch for Alpha is expected in the coming weeks. However, even if Alpha is ready to fly routinely in time for the lunar mission, Alpha isn’t powerful enough to send Blue Ghost to the moon.
Shea Ferring is a senior vice president of spacecraft at Firefly and said in a statement that the Falcon 9 launch vehicle has the performance required to permit a lunar transit using minimal Blue Ghost propulsion resources. Choosing SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will allow the lander to deliver more than 150 kilograms payload to the moon’s surface.
Firefly is currently testing the lander’s vision navigation system on a simulated lunar landscape at a test site in Briggs, Texas. Work on the lander itself is also underway. With SpaceX winning this contract, it’s now launching five of six Commercial Lunar Payload Services missions for NASA.