The 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing has brought renewed attention to the Earth’s only natural satellite.
NASA has announced it will return humans to the lunar surface in 2024 and have a sustainable presence on the moon in 2028.
Masten Space Systems is doing its part to achieve that goal. The Mojave company has been tasked by NASA to develop a lunar lander that can bring supplies to the moon’s surface.
Chief Executive Sean Mahoney said the company has worked on its lander technology ever since Masten won the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge X Prize in 2009.
“It may seem like this moon stuff is coming out of nowhere but no, it has been there the whole time,” Mahoney said. “It has just been building up to when the right things aligned to make lunar delivery real. That is where we are now.”
Masten joins two San Fernando Valley companies that are also in the moon business.
Aerojet Rocketdyne, in Chatsworth, is providing the rocket engines for the Space Launch System that will take humans to the moon. TransAstra Corp., in Lakeview Terrace in the east Valley, received this spring funding from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts to study how to build an affordable lunar polar mining outpost.
Masten is one of nine companies picked by NASA as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services project. These companies are eligible to receive contracts with a total maximum value of $2.6 billion during the next 10 years for delivering science and technology payloads for NASA to the moon’s surface. Also, the company was chosen in 2014 as one of three business partners in the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown, or CATALYST, initiative.
The CATALYST program has resulted in Masten building the XL-1, a lunar lander capable of carrying up to 100 kilograms to the moon. Follow-up projects include the XL-2 and Xeus, a heavy lift space vehicle.
The commonality between the three craft is developing the technology and systems so that there are no dead ends, Mahoney said.
“We don’t want to go down a path and then have to throw it all out and do something completely different when someone says we need to carry more mass,” he added.
Masten is funded primarily through its relationships with NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Funding mechanisms include Small Business Innovation Research grants from DARPA in 2014, along with Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., to study development of a space plane to take small satellites into low-earth orbit. Boeing eventually got the contract.
Funding also came from company founder and Chief Technology Officer Dave Masten and another investor who have put in money, Mahoney said.
“There has been a decent amount of equity that has gone into the company but even more so from the customers,” he added.