Firefly Aerospace may be developing rockets of its own, but it's also simultaneously building Blue Ghost, its first lunar lander. Blue Ghost will hop a ride with a rocket from a different launch company — SpaceX — in 2023, the companies announced today.
While Firefly Aerospace is in the process of developing its own launch vehicles, the company is still looking forward to its first orbital flight of its Alpha rocket, which is not a rocket capable of taking large payloads to the moon. SpaceX, meanwhile, hasn't yet sent a Falcon 9 on a lunar mission, but it has flown a lot of successful missions, and its specs allow for moon deliveries, with many other commercial lunar lander developers selecting the vehicle as their launch vehicle of choice.
Firefly's Blue Ghost aims to fly in just a couple years' time, and it's tasked with carrying 10 payloads on behalf of NASA as part of their Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. NASA is using that program to award private companies missions to carry experiments to the moon's surface, in part as preparation for the forthcoming Artemis human moon exploration (and, eventually, long-term habitation) missions.
SpaceX got the nod in part because the Falcon 9's performance specs mean the Blue Ghost can conserve more of its own fuel, making it possible for the lander to take on around 150 kg (330 lbs) of cargo. Firefly, like many other CLPS providers, also intends to take up payloads alongside the NASA experiments from other commercial entities, selling off that space to make more revenue.
The first lander launching under CLPS is scheduled to fly sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, and a total of six are currently awarded and planned for tentative launches through 2023.