Astrobotic Lands $199.5M Contract to Deliver Rover to Moon

Pittsburgh ‘lunar logistics’ firm will design NASA robot, deploy in 2023

By Matt Neistei

Published June 15, 2020

Read Time: 2 mins


Need to get something from Pittsburgh to any destination on Earth? You’ll find dozens of passenger and cargo options at Pittsburgh International and Allegheny County airports.

Need to get something from Earth to, say, the Moon? Pittsburgh has that one covered too.

Just ask NASA, which last week awarded a nearly $200 million contract to ‘Burgh-based Astrobotic to build and send the first-ever U.S. rover to the Moon by the end of 2023.

“The VIPER rover and the commercial partnership that will deliver it to the Moon are a prime example of how the scientific community and U.S. industry are making NASA’s lunar exploration vision a reality,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a release.

Astrobotic spun out of Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 with the specific goal of putting a rover on the moon. Over the past 13 years, it has evolved and grown into a self-described “lunar logistics provider,” a sort of combined travel agent and freight forwarder for all things Moon.

The company now partners with private businesses and government agencies around the world to develop and deliver their scientific equipment and experiments to the Moon.

The Pittsburgh Technology Council hosted Astrobotic CEO John Thornton on Monday as part of its daily “Business as Usual” chat series. For a complete listing of the “Business as Usual” series, click here.

Announced on Thursday, the 2023 Griffin mission will deliver the VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) to the Moon’s surface to look for water ice, which could be used to manufacture breathable air and rocket propellant for future human exploration. That will be a precursor to NASA’s 2024 mission to put astronauts on the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years.

“Astrobotic’s lunar logistics services were created to open a new era on the Moon,” CEO John Thornton said in a release. “Delivering VIPER to look for water and setting the stage for the first human crew since Apollo embodies our mission as a company.”

Astrobotic already had a pair of missions scheduled. In 2021, the Peregrine mission will carry payloads for NASA and the Mexican Space Agency as well as private space firms in Chile, Canada, Hungary, the UK and other clients.

Among them are San Francisco-based company Elysium Space, which delivers capsules containing portions of human remains to be buried on the Moon.

A year later, the MoonRanger mission will carry a rover developed with CMU to the Moon’s south pole to map the lunar surface and test autonomous functions.

The $199.5 million contract for the Griffin mission is the latest entry in Astrobotic’s partnership with NASA that dates back to 2008, when the space agency funded research on how to move soil on the lunar surface.

Peregrine aims to be the company’s first completed mission to the Moon, and partners paid handsomely to be a part of it. While shipping cargo from PIT can be done relatively quickly and affordably, those placing payloads on Peregrine are paying $4.5 million per kilogram to have their items delivered to the lunar surface by rover – quite a delivery charge.

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