Astrobotic Technology is an American privately held company that is developing space robotics technology for planetary missions. It was founded in 2008 by Carnegie Mellon professor Red Whittaker and his associates, with the goal of winning the Google Lunar X Prize. The company is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
As of August 2012, the company was partnered with Carnegie Mellon University, International Rectifier, Ansys, AGI, Alcoa, and Caterpillar.
As of November 2015, the company partnered with German Aerospace Center Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR).
As of June 2016, the company partnered with Airbus Defence and Space and DHL.
The team articulated an ambitious goal from the start in 2008: they hope to be the first to land their spacecraft "Red Rover" on the Moon, using the lander, named "Artemis Lander". Since its formation, Astrobotic has maintained a spot in the top three rankings for Evadot's third-party Google Lunar X Prize Scorecard. The company's first running prototype of Red Rover was completed the same year, and on July 28, 2008, NASA awarded Astrobotic funding for its "Regolith Moving Methods" proposal.
In 2009, Astrobotic began to receive a series of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from NASA totaling over $795,000 to investigate prospecting for lunar resources.
On October 15, 2010, NASA awarded a contract to Astrobotic for Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) firm-fixed price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts with a total value up to $30.1 million over a period of up to five years, and in December, NASA's $500,000 ILDD project for further Lunar Demonstrations Data was awarded to Astrobotic.
As of February 2011, both the descent stage and the lunar rover are now unnamed. Originally named "Red Rover" and "Artemis Lander", respectively, Astrobotic indicated in 2011 that they were reserving naming rights, as well as selection of the planned location for the lunar landing, for their payload customers. "We have to sell a lot of payload to make the economics work, ... the customers will decide where we go". Later, the rover continued to be called "Red Rover" and the lander was now called "Griffin".
Astrobotic's "Technologies Enabling Exploration of Skylights, Lava Tubes, and Caves", was a phase one selection for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC). In April 2011, Astrobotic received a $599,000 two-year contract to develop a scalable gravity offload device for testing rover mobility in simulated lunar gravity under NASA's Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR).
In May 2012, David Gump left the position of President of Astrobotic and John Thornton took the reins.
On April 30, 2014, NASA announced that Astrobotic Technologies was one of the three companies selected for the Lunar CATALYST initiative. NASA is negotiating a 3-year no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreement (SAA). The Griffin Lander may be involved.
On June 2, 2016, Astrobotic Technology announced a new design of its lunar lander, Peregrine, along with two new industry partners. Airbus Defence and Space signed a memorandum of understanding to provide engineering support for Astrobotic as it refines the lander's design, which Thornton said is approaching a preliminary design review. "For us at Airbus Defence and Space, the moon is a very important topic," said Bart Reijnen, senior vice president of on-orbit services and exploration at Airbus Defence and Space. "Astrobotic is what we see as being the frontrunner in the world of commercial lunar transportation."
Astrobotic also announced a separate partnership with shipping company DHL, which will serve as the official logistics provider for Astrobotic. DHL will provide shipping for components of the spacecraft, and for the completed Peregrine lander from Astrobotic's facilities to the launch pad. "Moreover, we also see potential opportunities to develop the partnership further in the future, and explore how we can integrate our activities even more creatively with Astrobotic," said Arjan Sissing, senior vice president of corporate brand marketing at DHL. He said later that could include supporting "extraterrestrial logistics in regard to moon projects of the future."
In December 2016 Astrobotic slipped their estimated launch date to 2019 and separated from the Google Lunar X Prize.
As of November 2010, the company had priced payload carried to the lunar surface at $700,000 per pound ($1,500,000/kg) with an additional per-payload fee of US$250,000 "to cover the cost of integration and to provide communications, power, thermal control and pointing services".
As of April 2011, Astrobotic had raised the payload price and made a distinction between payload fixed to the lander and payload carried on the lunar rover. The revised baseline prices are $1,200,000 per kilogram ($540,000/lb) for lander payload and $2,000,000 per kilogram ($910,000/lb) for rover payload, with the additional integration fee unchanged at US$250,000 per-payload. Beyond the standard inclusions of 300 Watt-hours of power, and 100 MB of data transfer, per kilogram of mass purchased, pricing has been established for the purchase of additional power or Lunar-to-Earth data transfer.
In April 2011, Astrobotic contracted with SpaceX for a Falcon 9 launch on a lunar mission for as early as December 2013. The mission was intended to "deliver a lander, small rover and up to about 240 pounds (110 kg) of payload to the surface of the Moon". A payload user's guide for researchers on preparation of their instruments was released in early March 2011.
In April 2011, Astrobotic stated that follow-on moon missions were tentatively planned for 2015 and 2016. Both to be flown on Falcon 9 launch vehicles, with the same total mission payload as the first mission: 210 kilograms (460 lb), or 110 kilograms (240 lb) customer payload if the 100 kilograms (220 lb) rover is included on the mission. The 2015 mission was named Polar Excavator (now Icebreaker), would target the lunar north pole, and was nominally planned for July 2015 (now October 2015). This expedition's rover was to be Polaris. The 2016 mission, as of April 2011, was to be customer driven, and land at a destination that was to be selected by the customer. By August 2011, per version 2.4 of the User's Guide, there had been two small changes to the mission manifest with the first mission now aimed for either an Apollo site or a skylight entrance to a lava tube, and the launch date has been changed to a range: December 2013 to April 2014.
By October 2011, Astrobotic had delayed the lunar mission launch date to "late 2014 or early 2015", indicating that they were still under contract to SpaceX for a Falcon 9 mission.
As of May 2012, the Astrobotic mission on the SpaceX Falcon 9 was rescheduled for October 2015. In October 2015, a Polaris rover was to carry out the same or similar tasks to NASA's RESOLVE. (Polaris was designed to be capable of carrying the RESOLVE payload.) A constructed Polaris rover was unveiled in October 2012
By February 2015, Astrobotic had further delayed the moon mission to the second half of 2016, but then contracted with two other GLXP teams including Team Hakuto and Team AngelicvM. The agreement is to launch the rovers of all teams on a single SpaceX Falcon 9 which would then use the Astrobotic Griffin lander to touch down on the surface of the Moon. After landing on the lunar surface, all teams will compete against each other to achieve the objectives and win the GLXP prize. It is now planned for late 2019.
In June 2016, Astrobotic unveiled the Peregrine lunar lander. Peregrine is a smaller version of Griffin, a lander Astrobotic has previously proposed for lunar missions. Among the differences between the two designs is a change in propulsion. While Griffin used a single large thruster, Peregrine uses a cluster of five ISE-100 thrusters, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne and based on the Divert and Attitude Control System thrusters it developed for missile defense applications.
In 2012, a private project led by Dutch researcher Bas Landsorp to establish a permanent human colony on Mars, called Mars One, listed Astrobotic as a potential supplier. President John Thornton said, "Exploration, settlement and utilization of the solar system is mankind's next giant leap. Mars One exemplifies the human spirit and its limitless curiosity."
Astrobotic was considered for the Mars One rover, which must: travel autonomously around Mars to locate the most suitable area for settlement, measure the amount of water in the soil, transport the landers, remove protective panels from the landers, lay out the roll of panels, extract the still deflated living Unit from the Lander, connect the air tube between the life support unit and the living unit, and deposit soil in the support unit for water extraction and carry away the dry ground.