by Douglas Messier
MOJAVE, Calif., September 12, 2022 – A federal bankruptcy court last Thursday approved Astrobotic Technology’s $4.5 million offer to acquire substantially all of the assets of bankrupt Masten Space Systems.
Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic beat two other bidders in an auction conducted two days earlier. Intuitive Machines offered $2.725 million for a $14 million credit for a launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster. Impulse Space offered $750,000 for some test equipment.
Representatives of both companies declined to raise their bids at the auction, leaving Astrobotic as the highest bidder. The judge approved the two lower offers as an alternative if the Astrobotic purchase did not go through.
The $4.5 million payment was to be paid in cash with “a waiver of Astrobotic’s unsecured claim against the debtor’s estate, plus payment of all costs relating to any contract Astrobotic may take by assignment. “, according to the transcript of a hearing held on Tuesday in Delaware bankruptcy court.
Astrobotic previously entered into a “hunting horse” deal with Masten to acquire the assets for $4.5 million. The amount became the minimum or floor for the auction of Masten’s assets.
Astrobotic also provided Masten with a $1.4 million debtor-in-possession (DIP) loan to allow the company to operate during bankruptcy. Sources say Masten brought back a number of workers who were laid off in July.
Astrobotic acquired the $14 million credit for a launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 as part of its winning bid. The credit represents the amount Masten paid Elon Musk’s company to launch a spacecraft that would have delivered the MoonRanger rover and a suite of scientific instruments to the lunar surface for NASA.
SpaceX canceled the launch in June because Masten had not paid the company an additional $4.6 million as required by the contract.
NASA awarded Masten a contract worth $75.9 million for the mission under its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in April 2020. The CLPS pays companies to deliver payloads on the moon.
Masten Mission 1 would have been the first space mission for the company, which built a series of low-altitude vertical launch/landing vehicles that it piloted at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
NASA funding did not cover the full cost of the mission. Masten failed to raise $60 million to cover the shortfall, leading to the declaration of bankruptcy. Three companies also declined to buy Masten earlier this year, largely due to lunar mission liabilities.
Masten filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to protect himself from his creditors in July. The case took place after the company laid off some of its employees and furloughed almost all of those who remained.
NASA awarded Astrobotic two separate CLPS contracts to deliver a rover and scientific instruments to the lunar surface on two missions. It is unclear if Astrobotic will undertake Masten Mission 1, but it seems unlikely due to the cost of the project.