Update on Astrobotic — a GLXP Team Not Backed By a Billionaire

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)
Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an update on Astrobotic, a leading Google Lunar X Prize team widely viewed as having a good chance of winning the $30 million competition if it can afford to launch its lander and rover to the moon.

Astrobotic President John Thornton told the newspaper that the announcements by rival teams Moon Express and SpaceIL that they had secured launch contracts will help Astrobotic’s own efforts.

“I think there are some things that will come out of [these announcements] that will help us in this,” Mr. Thornton said Thursday, the day after SpaceIL, a team from Israel, announced it had a launch contract in hand. “It could trigger a cascade of things that we’ve been setting up that were on a certain schedule, but now this could move things along.”

While SpaceIL got several wealthy financial backers — including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — to back its efforts, Astrobotic and CMU’s method of getting to the moon involved three steps: Build an unmanned rover (CMU’s task); build a lunar lander (Astrobotic’s task); and then lease a rocket ship and rent out payload on it to pay for it (also Astrobotic’s task).

Turns out, finding enough customers in the fledgling space delivery business is tough. But Astrobotic has made significant progress, including announcing Sept. 29 that it had secured its eighth customer, a crowd-sourced company called Lunar Mission One that wants to take digital documents from people to the moon.

That eighth customer means Astrobotic is “very close” to filling up its payload and having enough money to pay for a rocket to lease, Mr. Thornton said.

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