COLORADO SPRINGS — Astrobotic is partnering with Canadian space software company Mission Control on a small rover that will go to the Moon on Astrobotic’s next lander mission.

The two companies announced April 8 that they will use Mission Control’s Spacefarer software to operate Astrobotic’s first CubeRover, which will go to the moon on Astrobotic’s Griffin-1 lander scheduled for no earlier than late this year. The CubeRover will be one of several secondary payloads on that lander, which will also deliver NASA’s VIPER rover.

The shoebox-sized rover will test its maneuverability and communications on this first mission. It will also demonstrate the Spacefarer software’s ability to control the rover, including semi-autonomous navigation across the surface and analysis of images taken by the rover’s cameras.

“We chose to work with Mission Control because of the extensive capabilities that they have in Spacefarer and also the very simple interface they built,” said Mike Provenzano, vice president of advanced development programs at Astrobotic, during a briefing at the 39th Space Symposium.

Spacefarer is a cloud-based mission operations tool, said Ewan Reid, founder and chief executive of Mission Control, providing easy access to telemetry and other data as well as the ability to command a spacecraft through a point-and-click interface. It provides, he said, “all sorts of different tools that users need to try to make the best smartest decisions in the shortest amount of time.”

The software will enable distributed control for CubeRover, with mission operations handled both at Astrobotic’s Pittsburgh headquarters and Mission Control’s Ottawa headquarters. “It’s truly going to be a joint mission with operators at both locations,” said Provenzano. “That’s really exciting and something that Spacefarer enabled.”

Mission Control flew a version of Spacefarer on another lunar lander mission, ispace’s HAKUTO-R M1 lander, but that spacecraft crashed attempting to land on the moon in April 2023. Reid said that the software would have been able to receive and analyze data from that lander but not command it.

Flying Spacefarer on CubeRover, he said, will help Mission Control open up new opportunities for his company, demonstrating that Spacefarer can handle operations of spacecraft. Those customers, he argued, can focus on their specific technologies, “and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel for an operations platform.”

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) stimulated the development of Spacefarer through its Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP), intended to help Canadian companies demonstrate technologies for lunar missions. “The CSA recognizes that without that step in our development timeline, without having validated something that has flown and operated on a real mission, it’s very hard for us to sell it around the world,” Reid said.

“Commercial companies are at the very beginning of creating a new market and economy at the moon,” said CSA President Lisa Campbell. “LEAP was created to provide thias wide range of opportunities for Canadian science and technology activities in lunar orbit, on the moon’s surface and beyond.”

She said the agreement between Astrobotic and Mission Control is “validating something that we believe in at the agency, which is we need to try things, we need to be bold. The world wants more of what Canada has to offer.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...