astrobotic peregrine lander
Illustration of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on the surface of the moon. Credit: Astrobotic Technology

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Astrobotic Technology, one of the leading teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, announced a new design of its lunar lander June 2 along with two new industry partners.

In a presentation at the Berlin Air Show, Astrobotic said its new Peregrine lander will be able to deliver between 35 and 265 kilograms of payload to the surface of the moon, depending on the choice of launch vehicle and amount of propellant carried on the vehicle. The lander is designed to perform an autonomous landing with a target accuracy of 100 meters.

“This spacecraft will be the spacecraft that will carry customer payloads to the moon on our first mission, and many more thereafter,” said John Thornton, chief executive of the Pittsburgh-based company, during a June 2 media teleconference. “

Peregrine is a smaller version of Griffin, a lander Astrobotic has previously proposed for lunar missions. Among the differences between the two designs is a change in propulsion. While Griffin used a single large thruster, Peregrine uses a cluster of five ISE-100 thrusters, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne and based on the Divert and Attitude Control System thrusters it developed for missile defense applications.

Astrobotic also used the lander announcement to announce partnerships with two companies. Airbus Defence and Space has signed a memorandum of understanding to provide engineering support for Astrobotic as it refines the lander’s design, which Thornton said is approaching a preliminary design review.

“For us at Airbus Defence and Space, the moon is a very important topic,” said Bart Reijnen, senior vice president of on-orbit services and exploration at Airbus Defence and Space. “Astrobotic is what we see as being the frontrunner in the world of commercial lunar transportation.”

Neither company disclosed the terms of their agreement, including any exchange of funds. Reijnen said Airbus started providing technical support to Astrobotic prior to the announcement of the agreement.

Astrobotic also announced a separate partnership with shipping company DHL, which will serve as the official logistics provider for Astrobotic. DHL will provide shipping for components of the spacecraft, and for the completed Peregrine lander from Astrobotic’s facilities to the launch pad.

“Moreover, we also see potential opportunities to develop the partnership further in the future, and explore how we can integrate our activities even more creatively with Astrobotic,” said Arjan Sissing, senior vice president of corporate brand marketing at DHL. He said later that could include supporting “extraterrestrial logistics in regard to moon projects of the future.”

Astrobotic is one of 16 teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize, which offers a $20 million grand prize for the first team to land on the moon, travel at least 500 meters across its surface, and return high-definition video and other data. While Astrobotic is one of the leading teams in the competition, Thornton downplayed the importance of winning the competition to the company’s overall business plan.

“As a business, we’re out to make a sustainable delivery service to the moon,” he said. “The X Prize is part of our first mission, but it’s not the reason we exist.”

That first mission, he said, will be on the lower end of Peregrine’s capabilities, with a payload of 35 kilograms. Astrobotic has signed up ten customers for that mission, Thornton said, but still has room for additional payloads on the lander. “We will fly once all the payloads are ready,” he said.

Astrobotic, though, is facing some near-term deadlines for the competition. The competition’s current deadline for winning the grand prize is the end of 2017. Teams that wish to continue in the competition, however, must have a launch contract in place and verified by the X Prize Foundation by the end of this year. To date, only Moon Express and SpaceIL have announced such contracts.

“X Prize has a deadline of getting a launch by the end of this year, and our goal is to do just that, to be on a manifest and ready to go,” Thornton said.

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...