Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander
Credit: Astrobotic

The Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic — spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in 2007 — is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and has been working on developing a low-cost, lunar delivery service.

According to the group, it has nearly a dozen “deals” for their first mission and dozens of customer negotiations for upcoming missions.

Astrobotic is offering a lander service that is “poised to be central to America’s return to the Moon,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, and is calling for a “surge” of landers to dot the Moon.

Credit: NASA

Commercial cargo

One enabler for peppering the Moon with private-sector landers is NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) program and the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative

NASA competitively selected three partners in 2014 to spur commercial cargo transportation capabilities to the surface of the Moon.

The no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreement partnerships are with Astrobotic, Masten Space Systems Inc. of Mojave, California, and Moon Express Inc., of Cape Canaveral, Florida, is designed to develop capabilities that could lead to a commercial robotic spacecraft landing on the Moon, but also potentially enable new science and exploration missions of interest to NASA and to broader scientific and academic communities.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander
Credit: Astrobotic

Robust American presence

Astrobotic has recommended to NASA that the space agency orchestrate a “Lunar Surge” of science, technology and robotic exploration missions. Doing so, the group adds, would rapidly expand a presence on the Moon with robotic landers starting in 2020 to ensure a robust American presence across key areas of the lunar surface, in advance of a human return.

Such a surge, contends the group, could be done within existing budget profile by taking advantage of privately-developed lunar landers, like Astrobotic’s Peregrine, without deviating resources from other critical development programs and exploration capabilities, like NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander
Credit: Astrobotic

Sustained surge

Additionally, such a rush forward “could demonstrate America’s unparalleled access to the Moon’s surface, and explore the Moon’s resource and shelter potential to enable the long-term presence of astronauts,” explains an Astrobotic press statement.

“With a sustained surge campaign of robotic precursor missions, America can prospect for water ice at the lunar poles, evaluate the habitability of lunar lava tubes (caves), test the peaks of persistent light as a power source, and get a firm grasp of how to make use of the Moon to propel exploration,” adds the press statement.

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