Establishing commercial markets on the moon is going to require thinking a little differently.
That’s DARPA’s hunch, anyway. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is the U.S. Department of Defense’s R&D arm, which has just selected 14 companies to participate in a new study to develop technological frameworks for a lunar future.
“The next decade may give rise to a thriving lunar economy,” the agency said in a statement. “Getting there requires looking beyond the current technical paradigm of isolated, self-sufficient systems that must organically support all necessary resources — such as power and communications — and toward a future framework that emphasizes integrated models of commercial activity.”
The companies selected for the 10-Year Lunar Architecture (LunA-10) Capability Study will work together over a seven-month period to design integrated, interoperable solutions for core lunar services like logistics, construction and communications. Crucially, the study will not fund lunar surface technology demonstrations or technology construction — instead, think of the study as the analytic framework that will underpin all that activity later on in the future.
The 14 companies include major aerospace firms and smaller space startups. They are: Blue Origin, CisLunar Industries, Crescent Space Services LLC, Fibertek, Inc., Firefly Aerospace, Gitai, Helios, Honeybee Robotics, ICON, Nokia of America, Northrop Grumman, Redwire Corporation, Sierra Space and SpaceX.
These companies will work in a “highly collaborative environment,” DARPA said, where they will design system-level solutions for lunar services. Other such services that could be explored are commercial in-situ resource utilization, positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), mobility and transit, and robotics.
DARPA did not disclose what each company will be focused on, but a few of the participants have separately released details on their contributions. For example, Firefly said it would develop a “framework for on-orbit spacecraft hubs” based on its line of Elytra spacecraft.
“Based on the capabilities of Firefly’s Elytra vehicle, the framework will define how spacecraft can dock together on-orbit and provide on-demand services, such as refueling, delivery, transport, and de-orbiting,” the company said in a press release. “The goal of the framework is to help improve on-orbit mission response times from years to days with scalable spacecraft hubs that can host and service spacecraft across cislunar space.”
Gitai’s proposal involves its Inchworm robot, which are equipped with tool-changeable end effectors designed to handle labor on the moon and space stations. Redwire’s contribution will focus on high-speed communications and PNT services, with the company noting that “A constellation of cislunar orbiting platforms offering robust services and broad lunar coverage will be a critical part of a thriving commercial lunar ecosystem.”