Team Astrobotic has won three Milestone Prizes: the Landing Prize ($1 million), Mobility Prize ($500,000), and Imaging Prize ($250,000), for a total of $1.75 million in prize winnings...so far! (See the complete $30 million in prizes that are available.)
Astrobotic Technology Inc. is a lunar logistics company that delivers payloads to the Moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits and individuals. Astrobotic aims to become the FedEx or DHL to the Moon by offering multiple customer shipments on a single flight via its innovative Griffin Lander spacecraft. Astrobotic is an established NASA contractor, and an official partner with NASA through the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) program. Astrobotic was spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in 2007 and is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Astrobotic is building a lunar delivery service that will make the Moon more accessible to the world. Until now, only three countries have landed on the moon, and Astrobotic is providing the service to make it possible for any nation to land on the Moon, and have their “Apollo” moment. Astrobotic is also opening up the mission to individuals, through a program called MoonMail™ that provides the opportunity for people around the world to send mementos on Astrobotic’s Griffin Lander, and forever linking them with the Moon in the night sky.
Astrobotic’s landing destination is near the Moon’s Lacus Mortis region (Latin for “Lake of Death”). Images from spacecraft orbiting the Moon suggest that this is the location for a skylight, or entrance to a lunar cave. The discovery of lunar caves would be a boon to future lunar exploration, protecting equipment, infrastructure, and human astronauts from solar radiation, micrometeorite strikes, and extreme surface temperatures.
The Griffin Lander is the lunar delivery spacecraft designed to deliver payloads to trans-lunar injection, lunar orbit, or any precise destination on the Moon. It can accommodate a variety of cargo (or payload) including exploration rovers, lunar satellites, science instruments, or stationary payloads. Griffin can enable new robotic lunar missions such as skylight exploration, sample return, regional prospecting, and polar volatile characterization. Astrobotic will deploy multiple commercial and scientific payloads from Griffin on the lunar surface. The lander will provide power for payloads and act as the central communication hub, similar to a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Payload Integration and Launch
Astrobotic works closely with its customers to ensure that their payloads can integrate successfully with the Griffin Lander. Griffin’s payload deck measures 10 feet (3 meters) square, and the vehicle stands 5 feet (1.6 meters) tall and can carry 600 lbs (270 kg) of cargo to the Moon’s surface. As Astrobotic approaches launch, the payloads are attached to Griffin and the integrated spacecraft is attached to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket launches Griffin off the earth into orbit, and then relights to propel Griffin towards the Moon. At this point Griffin detaches and coasts to the Moon. During this travel, Griffin performs trajectory correction maneuvers to ensure it reach the Moon. As Griffin approaches the Moon it fires its main engines to capture into orbit and then corrects that orbit to a 100-km altitude circular orbit lined up with the intended landing region. Griffin deploys orbital payloads then initiates final descent. During the approximately 15 minutes of descent Griffin uses computer vision techniques to precisely target the intended landing site and touchdown softly. Once Griffin lands, it deploys its rovers and other payloads to the surface. It then serves as a wireless communications relay to Earth for deployed payloads and a power and communications source for stationary payloads still attached to Griffin.
The first mission will carry Andy Rover developed by Carnegie Mellon University which is named after the University founder, Andrew Carnegie and Pittsburgh banker, Andrew Mellon. Andy will be released from the Griffin Lander to visit a pit in the Lacus Mortis region. Andy is 33kg and contains unique pivoting axle suspension that allows it to drive faster in rugged terrain. Andy will drive 500 meters and project HDTV images to win to the Google Lunar XPRIZE for Team Astrobotic. The rover also has the capability to carry small mobile payloads, such as science instruments.
Race on the Moon
In February 2015, Team Astrobotic and Team HAKUTO announced a rideshare contract that will allow Team HAKUTO to fly with Team Astrobotic on the first mission. Team HAKUTO will attach their two rovers, MoonRaker and Tetris, to the Griffin Lander. The rovers will be released to line up and compete against Andy Rover to see which rover will traverse 500 meters and transmitting HDTV images back to Earth in real time to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE.
This rideshare partnership creates the very first NASCAR or Formula 1–like race on the Moon. Team Astrobotic welcomes other XPRIZE teams to fly together aboard Griffin and line up at the starting line for this exciting rover race!
Astrobotic is building a lunar delivery service that will make the Moon more accessible to the world. Future missions include exploration of skylights, holes leading to caves beneath the lunar surface, and additional missions to prospect, characterize, and exploit resources. Amidst the burgeoning commercial space industry, Astrobotic is pioneering affordable planetary access that promises to spark a new era of exploration, science, tourism, resource utilization, and mining.