remains firmly among the frontrunners in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, a race to the moon that is beginning to resemble an Olympic-style event.
The deadline to complete the lunar mission is October 2015. The first to the finish line wins a $30 million purse.
The Strip District robotics firm, a CMU spinout, has been a serious contender since the competition was announced in 2007. The XPRIZE pits university scientists from around the world against one another in a mission that involves creating the hardware and software to land on the moon, explore the lunar surface and relay high-definition footage back to Earth.
The idea behind the contest is to inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of space exploration. But the sheer cost of the race itself has proved a hurdle for many.
“Most people are putting us on top of the rankings,” says John Thornton, CEO, who stopped short of predicting an outright win.
Thornton has been instrumental in growing the business side of Astrobotic, especially its payload to the moon business as a way to raise the money to win the money and, of course, the prestige that goes with it.
This month Astrobotic picked up $1.75 million as one of five finalists in the Google Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prize, an award created to recognize the teams that have completed several of the objectives so far, technology for landing, mobility and imaging the mission.
Of the five teams selected, Astrobotic and Moon Express (Silicon Valley) were the only two to earn the cash award in all three categories. The other three milestone winners were Hakuto (Japan), Part-Time Scientists (Germany) and Team Indus (India).
Earlier this month, Astrobotic cut a deal with Astroscale in Singapore to transport the popular Asian sports drink, Pocari Sweat, to the lunar surface. It will be the first commercial beverage to touch down on the moon, says Thornton.
“For us, this is just like any other payload that we will fly to the moon,” he says. “That’s our business strategy, to carry payloads.”
Astrobotic plans to launch a robotic lander and rover aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in October 2015, exact date to be determined, for a four-day flight to the moon.
While the mission will be monitored from the space center, scientists from CMU will control the rover.
Astrobotic employs 12 and operates out of a warehouse in the Strip District, next to the Opera House, and plans to add another 5,200 square feet for a total of 8,000 square feet.
“We’ve come a long way,” says Thornton.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Thornton, Astrobotic