WASHINGTON — DARPA has selected 14 companies, ranging from small startups to established aerospace corporations, to participate in a study on developing commercial lunar infrastructure.
DARPA announced Dec. 5 that 14 companies will collaborate over the next seven months on its 10-Year Lunar Architecture, or LunA-10, study. The goal of the effort, announced in August, is to develop an integrated architecture to support a commercial lunar economy by the mid-2030s.
“LunA-10 has the potential to upend how the civil space community thinks about spurring widespread commercial activity on and around the Moon within the next 10 years,” Michael Nayak, DARPA program manager for LunA-10, said in a statement.
The 14 companies selected are:
- Blue Origin
- CisLunar Industries
- Crescent Space Services LLC
- Fibertek, Inc.
- Firefly Aerospace
- Honeybee Robotics
- Nokia of America
- Northrop Grumman
- Redwire Corporation
- Sierra Space
The companies, Nayak said in a statement, each offered “a clear vision and technically rigorous plan for advancing quickly towards our goal: a self-sustaining, monetizable, commercially owned-and-operated lunar infrastructure.”
The statement did not elaborate on the roles of each company, but in a presentation last month at the Beyond Earth Symposium, Nayak said companies were selected for work in six areas: communications and navigation; construction and robotics; market analysis; mining and in situ resource utilization (ISRU); power; and transit, mobility and logistics.
Some of the companies have disclosed details about their roles in LunaA-10. CisLunar Industries, a Colorado-based startup, said it will work on what it calls the Material Extraction, Treatment, Assembly and Logistics, or METAL, framework for lunar resources as part of the study.
Firefly Aerospace said in a statement that it will outline an “aggregated hub of on-orbit spacecraft that dock together and offer on-demand services” based on its Elytra line of spacecraft. “We’ve identified a path to drastically improve on-orbit mission response times from years to days with scalable spacecraft hubs that can host and service spacecraft across cislunar space,” Bill Weber, chief executive of Firefly, said in a statement.
Construction technologies company ICON said its role in LunA-10 would be to leverage its work in 3D-printed construction technologies. “By participating in LunA-10, we can understand what inputs are going to be available, when, at what cost, and in what quantities,” said Evan Jensen, vice president of strategic research and development at ICON, in a statement.
Sierra Space said it will focus on integrating technologies for extracting oxygen from lunar regolith. “At Sierra Space we recognize that to enable humanity’s extended exploration of space there is a critical need for ISRU oxygen technology on the lunar surface, given its strategic importance in terms of mobility, life support systems and potential commercial applications,” said Tom Vice, chief executive of Sierra Space, in a company statement.
While companies are bringing individual technologies and expertise to the effort, the goal of LunA-10 is to combine them into an integrated architecture. “Can we bring about a portfolio of performers that communicate with each other as exemplars and representatives of this community and work together?” Nayak said at the symposium. By working together, the companies will be able “to tell you to the gram, to the watt, to the dollar, what a lunar economy could look like by 2035.”
“DARPA finally did what the industry was waiting for,” said Gary Calnan, chief executive of CisLunar Industries. “The LunA-10 team has done a great job bringing together 14 companies representing complementary parts of the future lunar economy. This effort will lay the foundation for a marketplace where the entire space domain can participate.”
Neither DARPA nor the companies disclosed the value of the LunA-10 awards, but the solicitation released in August said selected companies would be eligible for agreements valued at no more than $1 million each.
The LunA-10 participants will discuss their work at an April 2024 meeting of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium, a NASA-backed effort to develop technologies in many of the same areas as the DARPA study. The companies will provide a final report to DARPA in June 2024.