NASA has awarded Firefly Aerospace, a company based in Cedar Park, Texas, a $93.3 million contract to carry out a mission to conduct experiments and test new technologies on the Moon. In 2023, the company’s Blue Ghost lander will touch down in Mare Crisium, a 300-mile wide basin on the near side of the satellite.
It will carry about 207 pounds in equipment to study the lunar surface. One of its 10 instruments will capture x-ray images of the Earth to study the sun’s solar winds, while another will drill into the Moon to collect data on its thermal properties. Yet another instrument will act as a target for a laser NASA and Firefly will use to determine the exact distance between Earth and the Moon.
The entire mission, which Firefly will carry out mostly on its own, will feed into NASA’s Artemis program. As part of the project, the agency has been awarding contracts to companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin to speed up its timeline. But in recent weeks it’s become unclear if NASA will be able to meet its ambitious 2024 target for putting humans back on the moon.
At the end of January, it came out that the agency had quietly pushed back the award timeframe for two lander contracts from late February to the end of April. Additionally, in its latest spending bill, Congress only allocated $850 million to NASA’s Human Landing System project, instead of the $3.2 billion the agency had requested.