DARPA Picks 14 Space Companies to Work on Lunar Economy

12th Dec 2023
DARPA Picks 14 Space Companies to Work on Lunar Economy

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has strategically partnered with 14 companies to develop a future lunar economy. The 10-Year Lunar Architecture (LunA-10) Capability Study, aims to study the Moon comprehensively. The goal is to provide the groundwork for a sustainable and profitable economic ecosystem connecting Earth with the Moon.

DARPA selected the following companies:

  1. SpaceX
  2. Blue Origin
  3. Northrop Grumman
  4. Nokia of America
  5. Firefly Aerospace
  6. Redwire Corporation
  7. GITAI
  8. Sierra Space
  9. ICON
  10. Honeybee Robotics
  11. Fibertek, Inc.
  12. CisLunar Industries
  13. Crescent Space Services LLC
  14. Helios

The Efforts of Leading Companies

The DARPA LunA-10 study will span seven months, during which the companies selected will collaborate and design integrated system-level solutions. The efforts will be focused on key areas such as lunar power, mining, ISRU (In-situ resource utilization), communication, navigation, logistics, robotics, and more. The companies involved here range from established corporations to emerging startups, and they will all be involved in the collaborative efforts on the projects in this mission.

Contributing to the Lunar Economy

Michael Nayak, the program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, highlighted the companies’ clear vision and technical plans. Each company involved brings its unique expertise that helps develop towards the goal of a self-sustaining and monetized, commercially owned and operated lunar infrastructure. 

Firefly Aerospace, for example, plans to contribute a framework for on-orbit spacecraft hubs by utilizing its Elytra vehicle. This will improve on-orbit response times, reducing them considerably from months to days through scaleable spacecraft hubs.

The US Government’s Progressive Strategy

These initiatives align with the Biden administration’s National Cislunar Sciences and Technology Strategy, which also aims for scientific progress, exploration, and economic development focused in space. DAPRA also emphasizes that these efforts do not include funding for producing and deploying related technology. This excludes support for human exploration or scientific experiments without commercial value.

The companies involved here have shown optimism about the potential impact this can bring. ICON’s co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard commended DARPA’s swift actions. Gary Calnan, CEO of CisLunar Industries, also said that he sees these efforts as laying the foundation for a marketplace where the entire space sector can participate.

DARPA’s Part in Reshaping Lunar Projects

Overall, the 14 companies selected by DARPA will collaborate over the next seven months to work on the integrated architecture, and they aim to start a commercial lunar economy by the mid-2030s. DARPA’s ambition is to have these companies work together without any problems and give a vision of the lunar economy by 2035. 

Although the specifics of what each company will be doing were not mentioned in the official statement, some participants have shared insights from their end. CisLunar Industries, for instance, plans on working in the Material Extraction, Treatment, Assembly, and Logistics (METAL) framework for lunar resources. These companies will again participate in the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium meeting in April 2024 and give more details on the progress. The final report will then be submitted to DARPA by June 2024, which could shed more light on the future of commercial lunar infrastructure.

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