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Innovation & Startups

Racing to the moon turning lucrative for Oakland's Astrobotic Technologies

Carnegie Mellon spinoff Astrobotic Technologies plans to get to the moon first, capture the $24 million Google Lunar X Prize and generate revenues though a moon shuttle enterprise. Now NASA has stepped in to help make the enterprise more lucrative.

NASA has announced that it will buy up to $10 million in data from a commercial lunar lander mission through its Innovation Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program, with a budget of $30 million. If it all goes according to plan, earnings could translate to $36 million; that's $10 million from NASA, $24 million for the prize and another $2 million for launching in the state of Florida.

That's good news for Astrobotics, a top contender in the Google Lunar X pursuit. NASA would deposit $2 million in the company's bank account before the launch, which is planned for December 2012.The company and Carnegie Mellon have spent about $3 million to date building prototypes and designing the mission. The plan is to raise about $37 million from investors; the rest of the $90 million cost will come from progress payments from customers, which should be equal to about 50% of the final price, says Gump.

"This means that NASA has declared that private sector moon missions are a good idea and they want to buy our data," says David Gump, president. "We think we're among the top companies to succeed in selling this data to NASA."

The company's first expedition will revisit the Apollo 11 landing site, a mission that will connect the Internet to the Moon, deliver HD video in 3D, carry payloads and transmit the story to the world. The mission would mark the realization of a longtime dream for Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, Astrobotic founder and director of CMU's Field Robotics Center.

"The sensing devices and software needed for an automated lunar landing are evolving from our technologies for driving autonomous cars," says Whittaker. "Much of the technology for winning DARPA's Urban Challenge car race applies directly to lunar landing."

Watch an overview of the mission!

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: David Gump, Astrobotic Technologies

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