Masten Wins NASA Contact for Lunar Lander Testbed Development

Masten's Xombie vehicle

NASA recently announced that it would be conducting contract negotiations for 350 projects under its SBIR and STTR programs, which are aimed at promoting space technology development by small businesses. Parabolic Arc will be looking at a number of the proposals involving NewSpace companies that it regularly covers or which involve interesting technologies.

COMPANY:Masten Space Systems
LOCATION:Mojave, Calif.
PROPOSAL:Terrestrial Plume Impingement Testbed
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Robotic Systems for Human Exploration


Masten Space Systems proposes to create a terrestrial plume impingement testbed for generating novel datasets for extraterrestrial robotic missions. This testbed would allow rocket plume interactions with lunar, martian, and asteroid surface simulants in a fully instrumented, easy to access, and low cost environment using Masten Space’s existing VTVL suborbital launch vehicles.

The testbed will allow entry, descent and landing groups both inside and outside of NASA a low cost way of testing in situ regolith surface treatment, plume deflection, and ground effect mitigation technologies. The testbed will be optimized for testing ISRU based methods for launch/landing pad manufacturing such as optimal “paver” size and shape, life cycle management for pad materials, size and shape of hardened regolith bricks, and manufacturing methods.

Phase I will include surveying potential users for requirements, conducting one simple “bench” test to validate those requiremens, and documenting an initial testbed design in anticipation of a Phase II proposal. During Phase I the testbed itself will go from TRL 2 to 5. Additionally the single bench test article will go from 3 to 6.


ISRU groups within NASA will be interested in data as they seek to reach optimal regolith/soil treatment methods for pad development, and as they seek to determine the ideal shape/size of treated pavers for pads. Groups using sensors to determine distance from extraterrestrial bodies for automated landing and hazard avoidance technologies will find data on the impact of soil dispersion on the vehicle and on lidar and other sensors mounted on their vehicle. Ground operations divisions studying plume deflection designs will be interested in the data as they seek to optimize plume deflection angles and engine distance from the surface. Information from tests on regolith and soil “sandboxes” could also impact design requirements for leg width as data on how engine exhaust impacts regolith or soil cratering.


The Google Lunar XPRIZE has several teams that have the financial and technical depth necessary to win the prize. Several of those teams understand how sensitive their landing strategy is to the lunar regolith and how the lander portion of their system decelerates. A few teams even use hoppers which significantly increases the amount of regolith being spread around. Discussions concerning cooperation on entry, descent and landing processes and technology, including plume impingement, have already begun. These services can also lead to commercial development of materials for terrestrial applications.

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 5