NASA moon contractor Masten Space Systems files for bankruptcy: reports

One of the companies NASA commissioned to land robots on the moon has filed for bankruptcy.

According to multiple media reports, California-based Masten Space Systems has filed a Chapter 11 lawsuit in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.

The company is one of five firms to receive the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) award for delivering research payloads to the lunar surface in support of future human landings under the agency’s Artemis program. (Separately, Masten also worked on rocket-assisted water ice mining on the Moon in collaboration with Lunar Outpost and Honeybee Robotics.)

Related: NASA-sponsored lunar mission to be launched on SpaceX rocket

In April 2020, NASA awarded Masten a $75.9 million CLPS contract for a mission to be launched on a SpaceX rocket to the lunar south pole. This lunar region appears to be rich in water ice, a valuable resource for both robots and crews. The launch was pushed back to November 2023 (one year after the planned 2022 launch) after Masten disclosed supply chain issues. (will open in a new tab) due to the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2021.

This announcement follows apparent financial pressure on Masten. Around mid-July, the company laid off its remaining employees after laying off 20 employees in June, most of them on the XL-1 lunar mission, according to Parabolic Arc. (will open in a new tab).

“Masten intends to use the Chapter 11 process to rationalize Masten’s costs, streamline its operations, and conduct sale processes that maximize value for its unsecured creditors,” Parabolic Arc said.

“We expect the case to move quickly to minimize costs,” the company added in a statement. “We hope that this process will allow Masten to continue operating and deliver value to its customers and the space industry.”

NASA reported this to SpaceNews. (will open in a new tab) that his conduct of lunar exploration “may be affected by Masten’s business operations”, adding that if Masten could not complete the task order, “NASA will demonstrate its payloads on other CLPS flights.”

The agency will also work with Masten to make sure any changes are in line with the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), NASA added. FAR is used to provide “all enforcement agencies [use] … their purchase of supplies and services with allocated funds,” the US General Services Administration website says. (will open in a new tab).

The South Pole of the Moon is one of the most attractive places in the entire solar system. This mosaic was taken from the wide angle camera on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The South Pole of the Moon is the target of human missions and research activities. (Image credit: NASA/Arizona State University)

The document shows that SpaceX is the largest creditor, and Masten owes Elon Musk’s company $4.6 million. Other major lenders include lunar lander company Astrobotic, aerospace component supplier NuSpace, engine company Frontier Aerospace and Psionic, which develops navigation systems, SpaceNews reports.

Intuitive Machines, another company developing lunar landers, has agreed to purchase SpaceX launch credit from Masten, SpaceNews added. The agreement is a “stalking bid,” meaning Masten has a guaranteed minimum bid on the asset to sell it. However, Masten is allowed to look for another bidder with a better offer.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).

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