Carnegie Mellon University

Moon surface

October 05, 2021

MBA Students Boost Lunar Charging Possibilities by Capturing a Go-to-Market Strategy in Immersive Capstone Course

When the sun turns away from any part of the Moon’s surface, the temperatures can dip to -200 degrees Celsius. Never mind how inhospitable this climate is for humans, it’s not feasible for robots for any prolonged amount of time either. The machines will quickly lose their charge and shut down. If aerospace entities want their rovers to sift through Moondust and comb over the lunar satellite’s myriad patchy surfaces at great lengths, they must utilize a robust power solution that can withstand impossibly frigid temperatures because the sun can be down for up to 14 days at a time.

Enter Astrobotic. In partnership with WiBotic, a wireless charging company, Astrobotic is developing a wireless system that can overcome the challenges associated with charging robots on the Moon’s surface, and eventually on the Martian surface as well. While this marks an exciting time for both space exploration and wireless charging, there are still many more unknowns than certainties to account for, making drafting a business plan all the more complicated.

“It's almost funny to me, actually, how little of the business side I have seen from companies that are involved in these industries,” said Michael Provenzano (MBA 2018), Director of Planetary Mobility at Astrobotic. “It's more natural for technical companies to think that they need more engineering resources, but I think this industry, in particular, would benefit a lot from MBAs.”

“It's more natural for technical companies to think that they need more engineering resources, but I think this industry in particular would benefit a lot from MBAs.”

Michael Provenzano (MBA 2018)
Director of Planetary Mobility, Astrobotic

While a student at the Tepper School of Business, Provenzano co-founded the STARS Club, which helps students discover and connect with opportunities in the space industry. Through his Tepper experience, he became acquainted with Tim Derdenger, Associate Professor of Marketing and Strategy, who advises students enrolled in the MBA Technology Strategy and Product Management track's experiential capstone course. Both Provenzano and Derdenger agreed that the class would be an ideal environment for Astrobotic to cull insights from MBAs while solidifying the framework of its product and building a marketing strategy.

Provenzano hoped that working with Tepper students would help Astrobotic glean a more informed understanding of who its potential customers are and how the company can best serve them. The end goal was to use insights provided by the student team to design a customer-facing guide. To contribute to this goal, students examined value proposition, competitive landscape, and differentiators compared to competitors. Students also evaluated product pricing and cost model alignment.

For the MBA candidates enrolled in the course, working with a client partner in the space industry was a pleasant surprise. Of the four students assigned to the project, only Justin Rubin had an assumingly aligned background with degrees and professional experience in physics and electrical engineering. Fellow team members Vaibhav Hans, Paul Mulholland, and Raj Patel each boasted experiences ranging from biomedical engineering to supply chain operations to health care IT, respectively.

“None of us came from a space background, but it was helpful for me to see that regardless of industry, the same fundamentals were able to be applied,” said Hans. “We were able to bring together our backgrounds and what it showed me, personally, is the value of diverse viewpoints.”

Patel agreed: “It provided us an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and use the toolkit and structure that we know from class and mold it into a new opportunity in the space industry.”

“The biggest impact for Astrobotic was a better understanding of our customers and seeing where we fit in the different segments and that there are different users.”

Michael Provenzano (MBA 2018)
Director of Planetary Mobility, Astrobotic

Throughout a brisk, socially distanced semester, the MBA team worked on identifying Astrobotic’s customer segments, determining potential use cases, and developing a complete go-to-market strategy. This involved a mix of conducting customer interviews, market research, and financial modeling. Their final project presentation paved the way for a new market in the space industry.

“The biggest impact for Astrobotic,” according to Provenzano was, “a better understanding of our customers and seeing where we fit in the different segments and that there are different users.” He also complimented the students on their approach to examining and ultimately determining a pricing recommendation for the charger. The team landed on a creative recommendation that combined methodologies for a higher return.

For the students, the project experience can serve as a confirmation that the culmination of their tenure has prepared them to start their careers as accomplished MBAs. “I was expecting a lot of hand-holding in how we were going to go about developing this go-to-market strategy for Astrobotic,” said Mulholland. “But it turned out that we needed to do a lot of brainstorming and research on our own to really come up with a cohesive strategy.”

Derdenger noted that project sponsors are generally impressed by the outcomes of these projects. “You’re getting a group of very smart students on a project that might have been kicked down the line for quite some time until you have the staff to do it,” he explained. Engaging in experiential learning provided Astrobotic with the opportunity to address this project and assess whether or not it was in the company’s best interest to proceed. In the end, he hopes this will lead to growth of their company and business.