Rendering of Firefly's Blue Ghost transfer vehicle en route to lunar orbit. The Lunar Pathfinder is designed and developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. ESA collaborated with NASA for delivery as part of the CLPS initiative.
NASA has selected Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas, as its commercial lander for lunar orbit, which is an ESA (European Space Agency) collaboration with NASA.
The contract award, valued at just under $112 million, is a commercial lunar delivery scheduled to begin in 2026 as part of NASA's Artemis program.
Scientists consider this to be one of the best locations in the solar system for making radio observations that are completely protected from the noise generated by our home planet during the fourteen earth-day lunar night.
One of the payloads sent to the lunar surface aims to use this radio-quiet zone to perform low-frequency astrophysics experiments on the cosmos – focusing on a cosmic period that began about 370,000 years after the Big Bang and lasted until the first stars and galaxies were formed. Firefly is also required to provide communication services.
Nicola Fox, NASA's associate director, Science Mission Directorate at the National Science Foundation's Headquarters in Washington, says she's continuing to look for ways to understand our universe. "Going to the lunar far side will help scientists understand some of the fundamental physics processes that occurred during the early evolution of the universe."
Firefly is responsible for end-to-end payload integration, payload delivery from Earth to the surface and orbit of the Moon, and NASA payload operations for the first lunar day. This is the ninth surface delivery task award given to a CLPS vendor.
"This CLPS delivery is exciting," said Joel Kearns, the NASA's science mission directorate. "This lunar landing should enable new scientific discoveries from the far side of the Moon during the lunar night."
The three payloads set to be delivered are expected to weigh in excess of 1,090 pounds (494.5 kilograms).
- Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night): A pathfinder to understand the Moon’s radio environment and to potentially take a first look at a previously unobserved era in our cosmic history. It will use deployable antennas and radio receivers to observe sensitive radio waves from the Dark Ages for the first time. LuSEE-Night, is a collaboration between the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University of California, Berkeley, Space Science Laboratory, and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. It is managed for NASA by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
- Lunar Pathfinder: A communications and data relay satellite that will provide communication services to lunar missions via S-band and UHF links to lunar assets on the surface and in orbit around the Moon and an X-band link to Earth. ESA’s Lunar Pathfinder is designed and developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. ESA collaborated with NASA for delivery through the CLPS initiative.
- User Terminal (UT): This payload will institute a new standard for S-Band Proximity-1 space communication protocol and establish space heritage. It will be used to commission the Lunar Pathfinder and ensure its readiness to provide communications service to LuSEE-Night. It consists of software-defined radio, an antenna, a network switch, and a sample data source. UT is in development by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
Commercial deliveries to the lunar surface with a variety of suppliers continue to be a part of NASA's exploration activities. Future CLPS deliveries might include further science experiments and technology demonstrations that support the agency's Artemis program.