Astrobotic Technology proposes “NASCAR on the moon” with offer to carry Google Lunar XPRIZE competitors to the lunar surface

Astrobotic Technology has invited its competitors for the Google Lunar XPRIZE to fly aboard its Griffin lander to the Moon, setting up the first extraterrestrial race as the lunar rovers sprint to the finish line to win a prize in excess of $20 million.

John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic Technology, made the proposal at the Google Lunar XPRIZE Team Summit June 3-6, 2014 at the Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary.

Astrobotic’s mission will land in the Moon’s Lacus Mortis region near a pit that is suspected to be a skylight, or entrance to a lava tube cave. The mission will demonstrate the first autonomous, visually guided precision landing on a planetary body, and a rover developed by Astrobotic partner Carnegie Mellon University will circumnavigate the pit’s apron in pursuit of the XPRIZE. Astrobotic plans to launch its mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral.

Astrobotic wants to carry at least four teams on its inaugural mission. After landing, the team rovers would egress from the lander and simultaneously start the race to travel the 500 meters required to win.

Thornton likened the event to a NASCAR or Formula One race on the Moon, with people from nations around the world cheering their teams on to the finish line, as video of the action is streamed live back to Earth. He also stressed that the shared launch is a powerful glimpse of our future use of space.

“Not only does the shared launch create a more exciting race for the Prize, it would be the first international competition beyond Earth orbit,” he said.

Astrobotic has developed customer-focused service offerings for payload delivery to trans lunar injection (TLI), lunar orbit, and the lunar surface at the lowest available prices – $99,000/kg, $198,000/kg, and ­­$1.2M/kg respectively. The Griffin lander can provide power and communications for payloads on the lunar surface.

Astrobotic also announced a new online lunar mission configuration tool that allows prospective payload customers to explore mission options and see their approximate mission costs.

Astrobotic’s new website, designed by Carney+Co, features an innovative “Configure Your Mission” page where potential customers can choose their destination, enter payload characteristics, and define payload operation options. Users can create a login, save multiple mission configurations, and associate a mission with an upcoming scheduled flight. When a customer requests a flight, Astrobotic gets in touch to provide a detailed bid.

Since the last summit, Astrobotic has announced seven business deals that advance its first lunar mission – a new payload contract to deliver the Pocari Sweat “Lunar Dream” time capsule; four more NASA contracts to advance autonomous precision landing, resource aware planning for polar missions, and lightweight robotic excavation; selection for accomplishment in all three Milestone prize categories; and selection under NASA’s Lunar CATALYST program to develop robotic lunar landing capability.

At its headquarters in Pittsburgh, Astrobotic is building a new manufacturing facility and growing to 23 employees. Partner Carnegie Mellon University hosts 6 full-time staff and 30 students.