In January 2022, pioneering space infrastructure company Masten Space Systems was preparing for its first mission to the Moon. “This will be the first of many Masten missions,” the company said at the time. However, after jeopardizing a NASA-funded lunar lander project, coupled with serious financial difficulties, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware on July 28, 2022.
Masten risks a multi-million dollar NASA mission
First reported by Canadian space media parabolic archNews of the company’s troubled financial situation follows a series of struggles, including layoffs on June 24 and the subsequent furlough of the rest of its staff in July. To make matters worse, a source close to the situation told Parabolic Arc a few weeks ago that when Masten fired engineers working on the highly anticipated XL-1 Moon lander, he risked his multi-million dollar mission. funded by NASA.
According to the official document filed Thursday, the company has estimated assets of between $10 million and $50 million and liabilities in the same range. Additionally, it has between 50 and 99 creditors, as well as creditors with unsecured claims, the largest being SpaceX with $4.6 million in unpaid supplier debt, followed by space vehicle technology developer Psionic with 2. $8 and space robotics company Astrobotic Technology with $2.7. Other creditors with unsecured claims include nanosatellite company NuSpace, Airbus Defense and Space Netherlands, test rocket maker Agile Space Industries, and more.
Signed by David Masten, founder, CTO and president of Masten Space Systems, the document states that Intuitive Machines, one of its competitors, will buy Masten’s launch credit with SpaceX following a “purchase agreement of stalking horse assets”, which is essentially the first offer on the assets of a bankrupt company.
Founded in 2004, Masten has been building and flying reusable rockets for nearly two decades, with the most successful rocket-propelled landings in the industry. A few years ago, the Mojave, Calif.-based company began applying its terrestrial flight experience to lunar missions. Then, in April 2020, Masten won a contract with NASA to deliver a suite of payloads to the lunar south pole. Under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, the company has provided $75.9 million to deliver nine science and technology demonstration payloads to the lunar surface by December 2022 using its XL-1 lander.
3D printing rocket engine parts
In preparation for its upcoming lunar mission, Masten turned to Elementum 3D to help refine the 3D printing company’s reactive additive manufacturing (RAM) technology for aerospace applications, such as combustion devices and engines. rocket. In 2020, the duo began working on a patent-pending PermiAM laser powder bed fusion AM process, which enables material-independent transpiration cooling: a thermodynamic process where a liquid or gas is moved through the wall of a structure to cool it by absorbing part of its heat energy. Some of NASA’s engines that have seen the most action, such as the RS-25 and RL10, use injector faces with this type of cooling.
Compared to conventional manufacturing methods, the process can also form microscale porosity, which, as Elementum explained at the time, enables high injector performance through “high fluid resistivity and controllable pressure drops”.
Masten and Elementum even managed to hot fire a PermiAM fuel injector made with Elementum’s AMCopper-100 (pure copper) and A1000-RAM10 materials. They were waiting to perform tests for its GR-Cop42 and Inconel 625 materials. However, NASA’s contract did not cover the full cost of the lunar mission and Masten struggled to raise additional funds. Also around this time, the mission’s launch date was pushed back to November 2023 due to supply chain issues related to COVID-19.
A faltering space economy
After news of Masten’s bankruptcy filing broke, NASA told CNBC that it received notification that its payloads to be delivered aboard Masten Mission One could be affected by commercial operations in Classes. However, the agency said it was ready to transfer its payloads to other CLPS flights, announced by competing companies including Firefly Aerospace, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines.
On the other hand, Masten stresses in a press release that he still has “hope” that the Chapter 11 process will allow him to continue his operations. For now, the company’s future is uncertain, but as its workforce has been laid off, it could be reinstated if its financial situation improves and it resumes operations.
Admittedly, Masten is not the first space company to go bankrupt in recent years. In 2020, companies like OneWeb, Teledesic, Iridium and Globalstar filed for bankruptcy, among many other satellite companies. Unfortunately, this translates into many abandoned projects, space technologies and the hope of a wider space economy, especially as we get closer to the next Artemis mission, which should stimulate science and private spaceflight. like never before.
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