Spaceflight Insider

Astrobotic teams with Airbus for ESA Moon mission

The Moon as seen from orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

The Moon as seen from Earth orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected a team led by Airbus Defence and Space, in partnership with Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, to study the delivery of a payload package to the Moon.

Involving Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, the study is a mission analysis in preparation for Europe’s first mission to demonstrate in situ resource utilization (ISRU) on the Moon in 2025.

“It’s an analysis, basically figuring out what it would take to achieve the mission that ESA seeks to do, from a lander perspective, ” Astrobotic CEO, John Thornton, told Spaceflight Insider. “Airbus is also looking at the payload perspective. It’s a total mission analysis. It’s a first step.”

Astrobotic's Peregrine Lunar Lander image credit Astrobotic

The Peregrine Lunar Lander. Image Credit: Astrobotic

The Peregrine lander is designed to carry up to 584 pounds (265 kilograms) to the lunar surface. Using a combination of cameras, inertial measurement units and Lidar, the lander is designed to be capable of autonomously setting down within 328 feet (100 meters) of its target.

Peregrine’s first scheduled mission, carrying a varied manifest of scientific and symbolic payloads from governments, private companies, universities and individuals, is planned for a launch to the Moon as a secondary payload on an Atlas V rocket in the early part of 2021.

“Airbus is thrilled to have Astrobotic as a partner on this ESA contract,” Oliver Juckenhofel, vice president of On-Orbit Services and Exploration at Airbus, said in a press release. “Having independently vetted the Peregrine lander program during multiple technical milestone reviews, we have seen firsthand how Astrobotic is the mature low-cost delivery service of choice for ESA.”

ESA’s selection of Astrobotic for this ISRU demonstration mission to the Moon comes after an announcement in November in which Astrobotic was chosen as one of nine companies to be NASA’s preferred providers over the next 10 years for delivery of payloads to the lunar surface in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

“We are really thrilled,” Thornton said. “We are now the only landing company in the world who has been selected by NASA and ESA for lunar-related missions. So I think this is a great signal to the community and the world that Astrobotic is leading out in front.”

Astrobotic emerged out of the talent pool and educational tutelage of the renowned robotics program at Carnegie Mellon University. The company’s progress was spurred by the competition for the Google Lunar X-Prize, which sought to induce private industry competition to put a privately produced lunar lander on the Moon by 2014. The deadline was extended a number of times, but Astrobotic had grown and moved on to its own set of industry goals by the time the competition ended without being awarded in 2018.

An illustration of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on the Moon's surface. It was one of nine companies selected as part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract in November 2018. Image Credit: Astrobotic Technology

An illustration of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander on the Moon’s surface. It was one of nine companies selected as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract in November 2018. Image Credit: Astrobotic Technology

NASA’s recent broad agency announcement seeking commercial partners to submit proposals for human landing system designs for the agency’s eventual human missions to the Moon may also involve some input from Astrobotic.

“It’s an exciting part of NASA’s plan to return to the Moon,” Thornton told Spaceflight Insider. “I think it compliments small and robotic lander precursors pretty nicely. We’re taking a look at that, and maybe we can be a part of that program as a subcontractor to one of the primes.”

Thornton said Astrobotic will be busy building a robotic delivery service for the foreseeable future and because the company is building its robotic service at the same time as the human lander program, he believes it would be too much for a small company to try to take on both as prime contractors. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility as being a subcontractor for one of the human lander projects.

For now, Astrobotic has a busy road ahead with NASA and ESA.

“ESA is not going to the Moon alone and our vision for lunar exploration is based on international partnerships with commercial and industrial organizations,” David Parker, director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, said in a press release. “This mission study with Airbus and Astrobotic is a prime example of the new wave of space exploration.”

Proposed Peregrine mission profile. Video courtesy of Astrobotic and United Launch Alliance



Michael Cole is a life-long space flight enthusiast and author of some 36 educational books on space flight and astronomy for Enslow Publishers. He lives in Findlay, Ohio, not far from Neil Armstrong’s birthplace of Wapakoneta. His interest in space, and his background in journalism and public relations suit him for his focus on research and development activities at NASA Glenn Research Center, and its Plum Brook Station testing facility, both in northeastern Ohio. Cole reached out to SpaceFlight Insider and asked to join SFI as the first member of the organization’s “Team Glenn.”

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