Astrobotic Adds Another Google Lunar X Prize Team to Its Lander

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WASHINGTON — Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh-based company competing in the Google Lunar X Prize, announced Oct. 27 it will fly another team’s rover to the moon on its mission, now planned for late 2017.

Astrobotic said it will carry Uni, a five-kilogram rover being developed by Team AngelicvM of Chile, on its lunar lander. The agreement between the teams is similar to one Astrobotic announced in February with Japan’s Team Hakuto, with the teams sharing the cost of the overall mission and any prize money they win.

Once Astrobotic’s lander touches down on the moon, it will deploy Uni, two rovers from Team Hakuto, and Astrobotic’s own rover for what Astrobotic Chief Executive John Thornton called a “Formula One-style race” to meet the prize requirement of traveling at least 500 meters across the lunar surface.

Mauricio Guerrero, leader of Team AngelicvM, said a partnership with Astrobotic was the best possibility to get their rover to the moon after a deal with another company fell through. “We are on a time crunch, a deadline, and they weren’t able to deliver in a timely manner,” he said, referring to the competition’s deadline of the end of 2017.

Guerrero didn’t disclose the company AngelicvM has been working with, but in October 2012 it announced an agreement with Earthrise Space Inc., a Florida company that is the parent of another team in the competition, Omega Envoy, to fly a smaller version of its rover on Omega Envoy’s lander.

Astrobotic Andy rover
Carnegie Mellon Univ. is building the Andy rover for Astrobotic. Credit: Carnegie Mellon

In addition to the two other X Prize teams, Astrobotic’s lander is carrying payloads for the Mexican Space Agency and Lunar Mission One, a British company with plans to later fly its own lunar lander mission. Thornton said Astrobotic expects to fill the rest of the payload space on the lander by early 2016, and “may or may not” have room for another team’s rover.

Thornton said the company still plans to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but has not yet signed a launch contract. Astrobotic plans to sign a launch contract and schedule its launch after it finishes signing up customers to fly on its lander. “We’ll fly when the customers want,” he said. “It’s about filling about that manifest.”

Thornton added that the mission will fly no earlier than late 2017, putting it near the end of the window for the Google Lunar X Prize. Astrobotic said earlier this year it was planning a launch in the second half of 2016, but that was before the X Prize Foundation, which runs the competition, extended the deadline to the end of 2017. The foundation announced the extension Oct. 7 when it verified another team, SpaceIL, has a valid launch contract for its mission.

In additional to SpaceIL, which plans to fly on a Falcon 9, Moon Express announced Oct. 1 that it has a contract with Rocket Lab for three launches of its Electron rocket. The X Prize Foundation has not yet verified that contract, and Chanda Gonzales, senior director of the competition, said Oct. 27 that only SpaceIL currently has a verified launch contract.