Masten Receives NASA Contract for Lunar Surface Construction on Moon

A spacecraft creates its own landing pad using the in-Flight Alumina Spray Technique system. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

MOJAVE, Calif. — NASA has selected the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) and recently bankrupt Masten Space Systems for a contract worth up to $750,000 to develop technology to build landing pads and roads on the surface of the moon.

The proposed innovation is a novel binder chemistry for the formation of a high-strength, heat-tolerant, regolith-binder composite material, suitable for lunar surface and Martian surface construction, notably landing pads, as well as hardware for mixing and production of the binder material,” the proposal summary said. “This binder is unique because it requires no energy input to cure and can be sourced from 100% in-situ sources on the moon and Mars but with the option for immediate demonstration testing using terrestrially sourced, low mass-fraction binder.”

NASA selected the proposal for funding under its Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. The contract will last 24 months.

“This technology enables NASA’s goal of near-term and frequent landings on the lunar surface under the Artemis program while mitigating risk to surface and orbital assets and personnel,” the summary said. “The low energy usage and wide terrestrial availability of the low mass-fraction binder allows for near-term deployment of this material as a landing pad, while the in-situ sourcing opportunity and flexibility of the deployment hardware make the technology valuable for supporting a sustained lunar presence and for spearheading future Martian missions.”

Masten declared bankruptcy in July. Astrobotic Technology purchased the company for $4.2 million earlier this month at auction.

In April 2020, NASA awarded a contract to Masten worth $75.9 million to land a spacecraft with agency payloads on the moon. The company declared bankruptcy after failing to raise $60 million in additional funding needed to complete the mission.

The proposal summary is reproduced below.

Low-Energy Additive Construction for the Moon and Mars
Subtopic: Surface Construction
Value: up to $750,000
Duration: 24 months

Masten Space Systems, Inc.
Mojave Calif.

Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES)
Hilo, Hawaii

Principal Investigator: Jonathan Slavik

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL):
Begin: 4
End: 6

Technical Abstract

The technology presented in this proposal has the capability of providing surface stabilization for landing pads, and a low-energy solution to build roads and other early components of infrastructure that are needed to kickstart a functional lunar or Martian base. The proposed innovation is a novel binder chemistry for the formation of a high-strength, heat-tolerant, regolith-binder composite material, suitable for lunar surface and Martian surface construction, notably landing pads, as well as hardware for mixing and production of the binder material. This binder is unique because it requires no energy input to cure and can be sourced from 100% in-situ sources on the moon and Mars but with the option for immediate demonstration testing using terrestrially sourced, low mass-fraction binder.

The fully in-situ sourcing option for the material would significantly reduce the cost of deploying a base camp on the surface of the Moon or Mars. Along with the above benefits of this specific landing pad technology/chemistry, the proposed hardware to be developed in this phase II effort will be compatible with state-of-the-art thermoset and thermoplastic binders for regolith, allowing it to deploy and validate a wide portfolio of lunar landing pad technologies on any future demonstration mission.

Potential NASA Applications

This technology enables NASA’s goal of near-term and frequent landings on the lunar surface under the Artemis program while mitigating risk to surface and orbital assets and personnel. The low energy usage and wide terrestrial availability of the low mass-fraction binder allows for near-term deployment of this material as a landing pad, while the in-situ sourcing opportunity and flexibility of the deployment hardware make the technology valuable for supporting a sustained lunar presence and for spearheading future Martian missions.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

This low energy, heat tolerant, in-situ derived construction solution is compelling for a number of prospective lunar and Martian infrastructure companies. This may include companies like Masten Space Systems or SpaceX, but also orbital groups like OrbitFab or Axiom who may expand to surface operations. In this competitive space, few are willing to commit before demonstration missions.