Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Astrobotic Technology Inc., which provides commercial robotic services for lunar exploration, has signed a contract with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) to launch Astrobotic’s robotic rover and lander payload to the Moon on a Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The expedition will search for water and deliver payloads, with the robot narrating its adventure while sending 3D video. The mission could launch as soon as December 2013.
The Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic’s spacecraft on a four-day cruise to the Moon. The spacecraft will then orbit the moon to align for landing, and is expected to land safely and precisely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars. The rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights. The lander will sustain payload operations with power and communications.
“The mission is the first of a serial campaign,” said Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, chairman of Astrobotic Technology and founder of Carnegie Mellon’s Field Robotics Center. “Astrobotic’s missions will pursue new resources, deliver rich experiences, serve new customers, and open new markets. Spurred further by incentives, contracts, and the Google Lunar X-Prize, this is a perfect storm for new exploration.”
“The moon has economic and scientific treasures that went undiscovered during the Apollo era, and our robot explorers will spearhead this new lunar frontier,” said David Gump, president of Astrobotic Technology. “The initial mission will bank up to $24 million in Google’s Lunar X-Prize, Florida’s $2 million launch bonus, and NASA’s $10 million landing contract while delivering 240 pounds of payload for space agencies and corporate marketers.”
In addition to Carnegie Mellon, where several prototypes have been built and tested, the mission is supported by industrial partners such as International Rectifier Corporation and corporate sponsors such as Caterpillar Inc. and ANSYS Inc.