Astrobotic wins NASA funding for CubeRover mission

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WASHINGTON — Astrobotic, a company developing landers and other lunar technologies, has secured NASA funding to fly a small rover on a future mission to test its ability to survive the lunar night.

The Pittsburgh-based company announced Aug. 24 that it won NASA funding through the agency’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program to fly its CubeRover spacecraft on a future Astrobotic lander. That mission will test the ability of the small rover to survive the two-week lunar night.

“We have been working to survive the lunar night for several years. This mission ushers in a new era of commercial space where scientific instruments can survive months to even years on the Moon’s surface, generating a significantly higher return on investment,” said Mike Provenzano, director of lunar surface systems at Astrobotic, in a statement.

Most initial commercial lander missions count on operating only for a single lunar day because of the lack of power and ability to keep key systems warm during the extended night, when temperatures can drop to as low as –200 degrees Celsius. However, scientists are counting on later missions to be able to survive the lunar night and operate for months.

CubeRover will also be able to communicate with lunar relay satellites rather than through a lander. That can increase the range of the rover, the company says, since it doesn’t have to remain within the line of sight of the lander to maintain communications.

Astrobotic said that the SBIR contract, known as a Sequential Phase 2 award, covers the development of the CubeRover and a future commercial flight opportunity. Astrobotic did not disclose the value of the award, but it is one of six Sequential Phase 2 awards NASA announced Aug. 18 for work on lunar technologies as well as uncrewed aerial vehicles and smallsats. The six awards, intended to “spur rapid advancement for technology demonstration and use by NASA,” have a combined value of nearly $27 million, according to an agency statement.

An Astrobotic spokesperson said the award will allow the CubeRover to fly on a future Astrobotic lander mission as soon as 2025. The company currently has two lander missions under contract, both through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The Peregrine lander is scheduled to launch as soon as late this year on the inaugural United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur mission. The Griffin lander, carrying a large NASA rover called VIPER, is set to launch in late 2024.

Astrobotic has one kilogram of payload capacity on the CubeRover that it is offering commercially. “We’re finding this capability has opened several new doors for us and there is just generally a lot of excitement buzzing to fly on this mission,” said Dan Hendrickson, Astrobotic’s vice president of business development, in a statement.