A trio of ex-SpaceX brothers is developing water-powered lunar spacecraft

Wright brothers eat your heart out.
Chris Young
A stock image of the Moon.
A stock image of the Moon.

Thibault Renard / iStock 

A new startup founded by three brothers who used to work for SpaceX aims to build a lunar transportation network.

The brothers are looking to leverage their expertise to develop a fleet of reusable spacecraft propelled by water harvested from the Moon, a report from TechCrunch reveals.

Argo Space Corporation was founded by brothers Robert Carlisle, Ryan Carlisle, and Kirby Carlisle. Their ultimate goal is to build a fleet of water-powered vessels that can operate independently of Earth-based resources.

A fleet of water-propelled lunar spacecraft

Argo's first spacecraft is called the Argonaut. It is designed to be reusable and refuelable in space. The company plans to harvest and store lunar water in space as a propellant.

Argo has revealed little regarding specifications regarding its spacecraft, though it has stated that it will use a water plasma thruster.

"We look at this a lot like the California Gold Rush, where we are going to be commercializing this resource on the moon — water — and that’s going to enable a whole lot of other companies to build up their businesses, go after other new resources and bring new capabilities into the space that otherwise wouldn’t be possible or at all or economical without a service like ours," COO Kirby Carlisle told TechCrunch in an interview.

It won't be the first time water propulsion is tested in space. In 2021, NASA tested the technology with its Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator-1 spacecraft.

Meanwhile, Japanese space firm Pale Blue propelled Sony's Star Sphere 1 nanosatellite earlier this year using water vapor propulsion technology. That company aims to develop its water propellant technology as a new environmentally friendly and low-cost method for propelling small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). Argo, meanwhile, has its sights set a little further with its lunar spacecraft proposal.

SpaceX experience gives the startup a solid foundation

Argo's co-founders, the Carlisle brothers, are SpaceX veterans. Argo CTO Ryan Carlisle, for example, was director of launch engineering and led engineering teams working on Starship and Falcon 9. He also worked on an in-space refueling system project for SpaceX, which was part of a collaboration with NASA.

That expertise has drawn the attention of investors, with Argo having recently closed a $2 million funding round. Before it can reach the Moon, the space startup must test its space-based technology using Earth resources. They plan to use Earth water as a propellant for their first Argonaut demo launch, which is currently slated for the end of 2024.

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