Masten Space Systems files for bankruptcy: reports

One of the companies tasked by NASA with a robotic moon landing has filed for bankruptcy.

California-based Masten Space Systems has filed for Chapter 11 in the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, according to multiple media reports.

The company is one of five companies to have won NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) awards for delivering research payloads to the surface of the moon in support of future human landings under the program Agency Artemis. (Separately, Masten was also working on a system to mine water ice on the moon using rockets, in collaboration with Lunar Outpost and Honeybee Robotics.)

Related: The NASA-sponsored moon mission will launch on a SpaceX rocket

NASA awarded Masten a $75.9 million CLPS contract in April 2020, for a mission to be launched on a SpaceX rocket to the moon’s south pole. This lunar region is apparently rich in water ice – a valuable resource for robotic and crewed activities. Liftoff was pushed back to November 2023 (one year past its 2022 target) after Masten disclosed supply chain issues (opens in a new tab) related to the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2021.

The announcement follows apparent financial pressure at Masten. Around mid-July, the company laid off remaining staff after laying off 20 employees in June, most of them attached to the XL-1 lunar mission, according to parabolic arch (opens in a new tab).

“Masten intends to use the Chapter 11 process to streamline Masten’s expenses, optimize its operations, and conduct sales processes that maximize value for its unsecured creditors,” the company told Parabolic Arc.

“We expect the matter to move forward quickly to minimize expenses,” the company added in its statement. “We hope this process will allow Masten to continue its operations and deliver value to its customers and the space industry.”

Nasa says SpaceNews (opens in a new tab) that its lunar search delivery “could be affected by Masten’s commercial operations”, adding that, if Masten cannot complete the task order, “NASA will manifest its payloads on other CLPS flights”.

The agency will also work with Masten to ensure any changes comply with Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs), NASA added. The FAR is used to ensure that “all executive agencies [use] …their acquisition of supplies and services with appropriate funds,” according to the United States General Services Administration website (opens in a new tab).

The lunar south pole is one of the most fascinating places in the entire solar system.  This mosaic is from the Wide Area Camera of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The lunar south pole is the target of human missions and research activities. (Image credit: NASA/Arizona State University)

The filing shows SpaceX as the biggest creditor, with Masten owed $4.6 million to Elon Musk’s company. Other major creditors include lunar lander company Astrobotic, aerospace component supplier NuSpace, propulsion company Frontier Aerospace and Psionic, which develops navigation systems, SpaceNews said.

Intuitive Machines, another company developing lunar landers, has agreed to buy SpaceX’s launch credit from Masten, SpaceNews added. The deal is a “stalking-horse bid”, meaning Masten has a guaranteed minimum bid on the asset to enable a sale. That said, Masten is allowed to search for another bidder with a more preferable offer.

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Janet E. Fishburn