Press Release

Astrobotic Technology receives $10 million Moon mission contract from NASA and announces Alliance

By SpaceRef Editor
October 16, 2010
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Astrobotic Technology receives $10 million  Moon mission contract from NASA  and announces Alliance

PITTSBURGH, PA – October 15, 2010 -Astrobotic Technology today was awarded a NASA contract worth up to $10 million for a robotic expedition to the Moon in April 2013.

Astrobotic revealed that the alliance for this pursuit includes Carnegie Mellon University, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Aerojet, Scaled Composites, International Rectifier, Harmonic Drive LLC and Caterpillar Inc.

The expedition has 220 pounds of payload capacity available for customers at universities, space agencies, and corporate sponsors. The mission also will pursue $24 million through Google’s Lunar X PRIZE and Florida’s $2 million launch prize.

The mission will explore the lunar surface near an Apollo site with a “social” robot able to Tweet and update its Facebook account as it chats with fans on Earth. The robot’s high-definition cameras will show the Moon in 3D as it is directed by amateur drivers over the Web and at science centers.

NASA awarded its contract under the Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) program. It will pay Astrobotic for data about how to land at a precise location, which hasn’t been done by previous Mars and Moon robots, as well as how to avoid last-minute obstacles like boulders and small craters unseen from orbit. The NASA contract also pays for information about how the Astrobotic robot survives the lunar night – two weeks of deep freeze as cold as liquid nitrogen.

Each accomplishment is worth $500,000 to $2.5 million. Astrobotic can collect up to $1.1 million with data delivered prior to launch, and the remainder after its spacecraft lands.

Astrobotic plans to send its spacecraft to a lunar trajectory via a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, a “new space” company that won a $1.6 billion NASA assignment to bring cargo to the International Space Station.

Carnegie Mellon University backs the project with the experience of its Robotics Institute, where several prototype lunar robots have been developed and field tested. The University’s expertise includes winning the DARPA Urban Challenge with a Chevy Tahoe that autonomously drove through city traffic, planning its own path, avoiding obstacles and obeying the California traffic code. This sensing and software technology is being applied to a precision landing on the Moon.

“This private-sector Moon expedition combines small and large companies, and taps into the intellectual capital of the world’s leading computer science and robotics university,” said Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, founder of Astrobotic Technology and the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon. “Together we’ll create a lunar exploration mission at a breakthrough cost that enables public participation from around the world.”

“International Rectifier is pleased to provide engineering expertise and the hardware associated with power conversion and motor drive within the lunar rover. IR has extensive experience in radiation hardened, high reliability power electronics for space missions and looks forward with enthusiasm to participation in this exciting endeavor,” said Fred Farris, Vice President, HiRel Sales and Marketing for IR.

“Aerojet is excited to be a part of the Astrobotic team,” said Carl Stechman, Aerojet lead propulsion engineer. “As someone who worked on the original Apollo propulsion for the lunar lander, I look forward to returning to the moon.”

Astrobotic team member Scaled Composites LLC, which won the first X Prize competition with piloted flights to the edge of space, showed how prizes can spawn new industries: Sir Richard Branson turned its vehicle into the basis for his Virgin Galactic spaceline.

“Harmonic Drive LLC is thrilled to once again work with Red Whittaker and the talented team from CMU and the other Astrobotic alliance partners,” said Doug Olson, CEO of Harmonic Drive. “We have a long history with space flight applications and has manufactured thousands of Harmonic Drive(TM) gears for satellites, landers, and rovers. Harmonic Drive built the wheel drive gearing system used in the Apollo Lunar Rover Vehicles for the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. We are excited for the opportunity to return to the moon again and take a drive with our alliance partners.”

“As a global company, Caterpillar has been supplying its cutting edge technology to customers around the world for years, and now to be part of a collaboration that is heading into space is simply amazing,” said Eric Reiners, manager of Automation Systems in Caterpillar’s Product Development & Global Technology Division. “The alliance will develop technologies that will ultimately benefit Cat customers as they face the demands of moving to more remote and harsh locations to provide the resources the world demands.”

A unique aspect of the expedition is the inclusion of interdisciplinary arts projects created by the students and faculty based in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts.

“The many extraordinary artistic projects seek to embody the Earth to the Moon and in turn embody the Moon to the Earth in multidisciplinary interactions involving global audiences,” said Lowry Burgess, a professor who is coordinating this historic Moon Arts project.

About Astrobotic Technology:

A spin-out from Carnegie Mellon University, Astrobotic delivers payloads and collects data for space agencies, aerospace corporations and academic researchers. The first expedition in April 2013 will carry scientific instruments, engineering experiments and sample components that space agencies and companies want to test in the lunar environment. For corporate sponsors, it will deliver promotions that involve customers directly in the adventure of lunar exploration. Subsequent expeditions will prospect at the Moon’s poles for water and methane that can be transformed into propellant to refuel spacecraft for their return to Earth. Other expeditions will explore recently found “skylights” that pierce the lunar soil down to volcanic caves that offer shelter from the Moon’s temperature extremes, radiation and micrometeorites. Astrobotic also plans a robot able to outrun lunar sundown, always keeping its solar panels illuminated and avoiding the immobilizing cold of the long night. More information is available at:

About Carnegie Mellon University:

Carnegie Mellon ( is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 11,000 students in the university’s seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon’s main campus in the United States is in Pittsburgh, Pa. It has campuses in California’s Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico. The university is in the midst of a $1 billion fundraising campaign, titled “Inspire Innovation: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University,” which aims to build its endowment, support faculty, students and innovative research, and enhance the physical campus with equipment and facility improvements.

About Lockheed Martin Space Systems:

Lockheed Martin is pleased to be on the Astrobotic Technology team and will help build a lunar lander that can be used to transport payloads to the moon. Headquartered in Bethesda, MD, Lockheed Martin is a global security company that employs about 136,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. For more than 50 years, Lockheed Martin has led the way in the design and production of spacecraft that have helped scientists understand our solar system. Lockheed Martin’s legacy of space exploration includes spacecraft and observatory development, scientific instruments and payloads that have enabled thousands of scientists and researchers to explore and broaden our understanding of the universe. For more information, go to

About Aerojet:

Aerojet is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader principally serving the missile and space propulsion, defense and armaments markets. GenCorp is a leading technology-based manufacturer of aerospace and defense products and systems with a real estate segment that includes activities related to the entitlement, sale, and leasing of the company’s excess real estate assets. Additional information about Aerojet and GenCorp can be obtained by visiting the companies’ Web sites at and

About International Rectifier:

International Rectifier (NYSE:IRF) is a world leader in power management technology. IR’s analog and mixed signal ICs, advanced circuit devices, integrated power systems and components enable high performance computing and reduce energy waste from motors, the world’s single largest consumer of electricity. Leading manufacturers of computers, energy efficient appliances, lighting, automobiles, satellites, aircraft and defense systems rely on IR’s power management benchmarks to power their next generation products. For more information, go to

About Harmonic Drive LLC:

Harmonic Drive LLC is located in Peabody, MA, and along with its group companies, Harmonic Drive Systems Inc. (Japan) and Harmonic Drive AG (Germany) is the world’s largest manufacturer of precision strain wave gearing. Providing high torque and high accuracy, Harmonic Drive(TM) gear systems and servo actuators are widely used in aerospace, surgical robots, industrial robotics, machine tool and defense applications.

About Caterpillar Inc.:

For more than 85 years, Caterpillar Inc. has been making progress possible and driving positive and sustainable change on every continent. With 2009 sales and revenues of $32.396 billion, Caterpillar is the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines and industrial gas turbines. The company also is a leading services provider through Caterpillar Financial Services, Caterpillar Remanufacturing Services, Caterpillar Logistics Services and Progress Rail Services. More information is available at

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SpaceRef staff editor.