NASA’s plan to send humans back to the moon in the next few years is picking up steam. Before Americans take up shop near the lunar south pole, though, NASA needs a way to talk to them.
This week, NASA chose the company it wants to deliver the communications technology to the moon. Texas-based Firefly Aerospace was awarded the $112 million contract and will deliver the cargo in 2026 through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which falls under the Artemis program.
Firefly will use its Blue Ghost spacecraft in a two-stage configuration to put the Lunar Pathfinder communications satellite into orbit before landing on the moon. The Pathfinder satellite is a collaboration with the European Space Agency. NASA said it will “provide communication services to lunar missions using S-band and UHF links to lunar assets on the surface and in orbit around the moon and an X-band link to Earth.”
After the Pathfinder is in orbit, Firefly will deliver two payloads to the lunar surface. One of the payloads is called Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night). It’s a device NASA will use to conduct electromagnetic experiments on the moon’s dark side where radio interference from Earth is blocked. The other payload is a terminal to communicate with the pathfinder satellite. All three payloads are expected to weigh about 1,090 pounds in total.
Firefly Aerospace first reached orbit in October 2022 after years of difficulty. This week’s announcement marks the second space contract for the commercial aerospace company. Firefly is scheduled to carry a suite of devices to the moon in 2023.
Unlike Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, an album filled with stories of loss, regret and betrayal, NASA wants to fill its time on the dark side of the moon with education, insight and preparation for humanity’s eventual mission to mars.