NASA has selected Firefly Aerospace to land payloads on the moon and send another into orbit to provide communications with the lunar far side.
The launch will first send the European Space Agency's (ESA) Lunar Pathfinder communications and navigation satellite into an elliptical orbit around the moon to relay signals between Earth and the payloads on the surface.
The payloads destined for the surface are the Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night), which is designed to understand the moon's radio environment and peer into the unobserved cosmic "dark ages," and User Terminal (UT), which will provide communications support for LuSEE-Night.
NASA announced on Tuesday (March 14) that it had awarded Firefly the $112 million contract as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The initiative is part of the agency's larger Artemis program.
"NASA continues to look at ways to learn more about our universe," said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in a statement. "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."
"This mission will debut Firefly's unique two-stage Blue Ghost spacecraft, offering NASA and other customers multiple deployment options as we collectively build the infrastructure for ongoing lunar operations and planetary exploration," Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace, said in a different statement.
The award is the second CLPS contract for Firefly. In 2021, the firm was selected to put 10 payloads on the near side of the moon. That Blue Ghost mission will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2024.
China made the first landing on the lunar far side in 2019 with its Chang'e 4 lander and rover mission.
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Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.