SpaceX has quietly swooped in to buy a venerable parachute vendor on the verge of bankruptcy, The Information reports, in a rare acquisition by the launch provider as it gears up to play a pivotal role in NASA's return to the Moon.
The company, Pioneer Aerospace, designs and manufactures parachutes for reusable spacecraft returning to Earth, including SpaceX's own Dragon capsule used by NASA to ferry astronauts and supplies to and from the International Space Station.
According to a Florida bankruptcy filing by Pioneer's parent company, SpaceX bought Pioneer for a bargain-basement $2.2 million, approved by a judge on November 22. The move wasn't reported until this week.
As The Information notes, it's the first publicly known acquisition by SpaceX since 2021, when it paid a far heftier $524 million for the satellite company Swarm in a bid to bolster its Starlink constellations.
Pioneer has been in the business since 1938, providing parachutes for a host of iconic NASA vehicles including the Gemini spacecraft, the Space Shuttle, the Galileo probe, the Mars Pathfinder mission, and most recently, the Mars Opportunity rover.
By vertically integrating Pioneer, SpaceX not only saves a near-century worth of expertise from being lost — invaluable, as spacecraft parachutes are notoriously difficult to engineer — but it potentially allows SpaceX to produce its own parts at a cheaper cost.
The alternative — letting Pioneer go bust — could've been an incalculable setback.
"Space is hard, but space parachutes are much harder," Abhi Tripathi, director of mission operations at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory and former SpaceX employee, told TechCrunch. "It's pretty much among the hardest things, other than a very complex propulsion system, to make."
It sounds like a prudent move by SpaceX — and a welcome sign that, occasionally, sanity does still prevail over there.
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