Masten XL-1 landing
Masten Space Systems says its first lunar landing mission, carrying NASA and commercial payloads, has slipped from December 2022 to November 2023. Credit: Masten Space Systems

WASHINGTON — A federal bankruptcy court approved the sale of nearly all the assets of Masten Space Systems, a company developing a lunar lander for a NASA mission, to another lander developer, Astrobotic.

The federal bankruptcy court in Delaware approved Sept. 8 the results of an auction conducted two days earlier where Astrobotic submitted a high bid of $4.5 million for “substantially all” the assets of Masten. The sale was scheduled to close by the end of the day Sept. 9, although the companies had not filed updates to confirm that.

Masten had entered into a “stalking horse” agreement with Astrobotic, the companies said in an Aug. 14 court filing. That set a minimum price for the assets but allowed Masten to seek higher bids.

At the auction, Masten received two bids. One, from Intuitive Machines, another lunar lander developer, offered $2.725 million for the SpaceX launch credit, valued at $14 million but limited to companies that have NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts. Impulse Space, an in-space transportation company, offered $750,000 for equipment Masten has at its Mojave, California, headquarters.

The combined value of the bids, though, was less than Astrobotic’s $4.5 million bid. Neither Intuitive Machines nor Impulse Space raised their bids, so Astrobotic won the auction.

Astrobotic has not disclosed its plans for Masten’s assets. The company declined to comment on the stalking horse agreement last month. At the hearings, lawyers for both Masten and Astrobotic said that Astrobotic planned to hire at least some of Masten’s employees, most of whom had been laid off or furloughed by the time Masten filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy July 28.

“We’re excited to be acquiring the assets of the debtor,” David Gaffey, a lawyer representing Astrobotic, said at the hearing. “We think they’re natural partners. We’re looking forward to continuing the business that Masten has started, incorporating the employees into our company.”

Also uncertain is what will happen to Masten’s CLPS award. The bankruptcy documents suggested it would be among the assets transferred to Astrobotic in the agreement. NASA officials previously stated that, if Masten was unable to carry out the mission, it would move the payloads it planned to fly on that lander to other CLPS missions.

“We’ll find out at the end of their Chapter 11 reorganization if they are ready to fulfill the terms of the task order,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, during a presentation at the annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group Aug. 24 at the Applied Physics Lab in Maryland. “If they’re not, we’ll go manifest those instruments, those investigations, on other delivery opportunities.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...