NASA has awarded Astrobotic Technology Inc. an additional task in its $10 million Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) contract under which NASA buys information about the company's commercial robotic expeditions to the Moon. The $100,000 task order brings total funding under the ILDD contract thus far to $610,000.
Astrobotic Technology will launch its first expedition on a Falcon 9 rocket under contract from Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). In summer 2015, it will deliver a robot to the Moon's south pole to prospect for water, methane and other minerals. Turned into rocket propellant, these resources will dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration by providing an off-planet refueling station.
Astrobotic's response to the task order, due April 20, will provide NASA with a technical summary of the company's progress to date. Astrobotic has designed, fabricated and tested the structure for its lunar lander and is designing a new model rover tailored for lunar polar conditions. The new prospecting rover is adapted from a polar ice excavator the company is creating under a separate NASA contract. The company also has two NASA contracts to develop innovative ways to enter the Moon's volcanic caves and to deploy a team of cooperative robots to explore them.
"The number one challenge in space exploration today is the cost," said David Gump, Astrobotic's president. "Commercial robotic expeditions can serve space agencies at one-third the cost they traditionally spend with cost-plus contractors. And by prospecting for rocket fuel ingredients at the Moon's poles, we can provide a much lower cost source for spacecraft propellant as they venture further away from Earth."
Astrobotic Technology, a spin-out from Carnegie Mellon, funds lunar research activities at the Robotics Institute.