Need to get a payload to the moon? Astrobotic Technology Inc. is delivering.
The Carnegie Mellon spinoff is on track to land the world's first privately-funded lunar robot on the moon, a feat that it hopes will capture the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize in 2012. To get there, the company is purchasing the Falcon 9, a reliable, larger and less expensive launcher made by SpaceX, a company founded by Elon Musk, the Henry Ford of future space travel.
The Falcon 9 will give Astrobotic shipping space, says David Gump, president. "This is really a race for contracts and money. This is a great revenue source for us."
So far the company has raised $3 million of the $60 million cost of the venture. Astrobotic is offering the space to technologists, academic researchers and marketers for $700,000 per pound plus a $250,000 fee per payload. The first company to reserve space is Houston-based Celestis Inc., which operates a space burial service for cremated remains.
Astrobotic, with 20 to 25 full- and part-time employees, has also landed several contracts with NASA. The company hopes to continue charting robotic missions to the moon long after the "Tranquility Trek."
The lightweight excavation robots, currently in development, will play a key role in later missions, prospecting for water ice at the Moon's poles and seeking out volcanic caves as low-cost shelters for both robots and astronauts so future researchers can "live off the land" rather than haul supplies from the Earth, which is very expensive.
"We keep close tabs on our competitors. We're confident that we've got an approach that will turn into a long term business," says Gump.
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Writer: Debra Smit
Source: David Gump, Astrobotic Technology
Rover image courtesy of Astrobotic Technologies