Astrobotic Technology wins NASA contract - Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation - Carnegie Mellon University

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Astrobotic Technology wins NASA contract

Astrobotic Technology Inc., the Carnegie Mellon University spin out seeking the Google Lunar X Prize, is one of six companies nationwide to land a contract with NASA worth up to $10 million.

Astrobotic aims to lead a private moon expedition that will have a 220 payload capacity available for purchase by universities, space agencies and other companies. With this mission, slated for launch April 2013, the company aims to win the $24 million Google Lunar X Prize as well as the state of Florida’s $2 million launch prize. Both prizes were created to encourage private space exploration.

With the NASA contract, the company will receive payment at certain milestones in development with up to $1.1 million available before the launch of the spacecraft. Such milestones include $10,000 for system definition review, which is being written now, and $500,000 for the first hardware demonstration of risk reduction, said Astrobotic president David Gump.

The first risk reduction demo for the company will be showing how it intends the craft to survive the frigid lunar night, specifically how the batteries will be able to survive being frozen and thawed. Gump expects this milestone to happen by the end of the year.

William “Red” Whittaker, founder of Astrobotic and the Field Robotics Center at CMU, said in a written statement this project combines small and large companies and the university to tap everyone’s “intellectual capital.”

“Together we’ll create a lunar exploration mission at a breakthrough cost that enables public participation from around the world,” he said.

The NASA funding is part of the agency’s Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data program. The contracts are valued at $30.1 million and last up to five years. Data collected through this program will help the space agency in its “efforts to enable affordable and sustainable space exploration,” it said in a written statement.

Additionally, Astrobotic named the partners that have signed on as part of the technical team for the company: Carnegie Mellon University, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Aerojet, Scaled Composites, International Rectifier, Harmonic Drive LLC and Caterpillar Inc.

In September, Astrobotic announced it had received investment from British entrepreneur Julian Ranger. The exact amount of the investment was not disclosed but is said to be in the low six figures. The money is being used for business expenses and for staff, Gump said. Full-time staff range between three and six people depending on the work demand. Roughly 40 students and researchers from CMU also are working on the project.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times