Astrobotic Technology Inc. said Feb. 6 it signed a contract with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to reserve a dedicated Falcon 9 launch for the robotic rover the Pittsburgh-based company hopes to land on the Moon by the end of 2013 to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize.

Astrobotic Technology President David Gump declined to say what the company will pay for the launch, but said the decision came down to price and convenience.

“Because it’s a race and we need to get things done quickly we don’t want to have the dual problem of translating what we want to do into somebody else’s language, plus all the hurdles of ITAR,” Gump said Feb. 11, referring to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations that govern U.S. technology exports. “We also are favored by the fact that SpaceX has the most effective launch service that we know of.”

SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Brost declined Feb. 9 to discuss the terms of the deal. According to the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company’s website, Falcon 9 launches cost between $49.9 million and $56 million, depending on payload and destination. SpaceX offers a 10 percent discount to Google Lunar X Prize contestants.

Astrobotic intends to offset the cost of the Falcon 9 launch by carrying commercial and government payloads to the lunar surface. Astrobotic’s rover and lander are being designed by Carnegie Mellon University to weigh a combined 606 kilograms, including 110 kilograms of spare payload capacity Gump said Astrobotic hopes to sell for $1.8 million to $2 million per kilogram, depending on whether the piggyback payloads ride along on the lander or the rover. The company also is open to sharing the Falcon 9 with small satellites or other payloads needing a ride to lunar orbit or a nearby destination.



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