Last week saw the announcement of a new partnership between Astrobotic Technology, Deutsche Post DHL Group and Airbus Defence and Space. The purpose of the partnership is to support the development of Astrobotic’s lunar payload delivery service, one of many exciting new ventures in the burgeoning space industry.
Founded in 2008 by Carnegie Mellon professor Red Whittaker, Astrobotic Technology is an American aerospace robotics company focused on developing the technology required for a number of planetary missions including delivery and exploration services. The company was originally established with the goal of winning Google’s Lunar XPRIZE, and in the years since has partnered with a number of notable businesses and institutes including International Rectifier, NASA and now DHL and Airbus.
Astrobotic’s technological focus is aimed at supporting five key areas of planetary missions:
- Safe and accurate landings: achieved by autonomously aligning real-time camera data and existing satellite imagery of the Moon
- Lightweight robotic excavation: soil moving operations for human colonization preparation, completed by lightweight but robust excavation robots
- Planetary cave exploration: robotic exploration of subsurface caverns ideal for human habitation, combining lander flyover and rover exploration data to autonomously construct 3D models of planetary caves
- Driveline: inboard drivelines manufactured to withstand the various physical challenges of planetary exploration
- Structural and thermal composites for planetary rovers: lightweight and stiff structures designed to handle temperature extremes, low gravity and heavy payloads
Astrobotic is preparing for its first lunar landing and rover exploration mission, scheduled to take place this year. The mission is expected to win the aforementioned Lunar XPRIZE.
Some of the various features of Astrobotic’s future lunar delivery service include:
- Regular ride-share missions to lunar destinations
- Flexible payload mounting and separation options, with alternatives for different payload types
- Custom missions with customized power, communication and thermal control
- Lowest cost lunar delivery missions in the space industry
- Shared infrastructure system to keep costs low
- Autonomous hazard avoidance system
Planetary missions such as lunar deliveries are very likely to become highly profitable within the space industry in the coming decades, which is why industry leaders like DHL are now offering their experience and expertise to space-centric companies.
DHL and Airbus’ partnership with Astrobotic may have been unexpected but it isn’t too surprising. The large number of businesses, institutes and governments now investing in the space industry is a clear sign of where it’s heading, and it’s vital that these entities invest now before the space boom begins. The Peregrine Lunar Lander mission will be Astrobotic’s first payload delivery to the surface of the Moon.
The Peregrine features:
- Dimensions of 1.5m x 2.5 (hxw)
- Rugged and radiation-tolerant computing
- Configurable decks for accommodating payloads of different sizes and weights
- 35kg payload mass capacity
- Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion system
- Radio / doppler, sun sensors, star tracker, inertial measurement, landing cameras, laser sensors
As the world’s largest logistics company, it makes sense for DHL to be considering how and who will be in charge of planetary deliveries. DHL will become the “Official Logistics Provider for Astrobotic’s First Mission to the Moon”, providing logistics services to Astrobotic and its customers. DHL will be responsible for the delivery of both the materials used to manufacture the lunar lander and the cargo the lander will deliver as its first payload.
Airbus Defence and Space is the world’s second largest space company, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Astrobotic to provide the company with engineering support and its experience in spaceflight, exploration and lander development. Airbus Defence and Space is in charge of reviewing the preliminary lander design and ensuring the lander is able to complete its task.
All three companies stand to greatly benefit both financially and in reputation if the mission is a success. Airbus Defence and Space may already hold significant influence in the space industry, but partnering with Astrobotic will give it an even greater say in determining the future of space exploration. DHL is positioning itself as the leading provider of space cargo delivery services on Earth and ensuring that it is way ahead of the inevitable competition. Astrobotic will benefit the most however, and its partnership could lead the American company to becoming one of the most important new companies in the space industry.
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