TAMPA, Fla. — Japanese space robotics venture GITAI said May 24 it has raised 4 billion yen ($29 million) to accelerate technology development and its U.S. expansion plans.

Tokyo-based early-stage investor Global Brain led the funding round, an extension of a Series B round that raised around $17 million in 2021.

GITAI founder and CEO Sho Nakanose said the funds would support efforts to develop a lunar rover and a two-meter-long Inchworm robotic arm.

The rover recently passed various tests corresponding to Level 4 of NASA’s Technology Readiness Level (TRL), GITAI announced March 24.

In a simulated lunar environment near the western edge of the Mojave Desert in California, the venture said it used two rovers and two Inchworms in March to emulate tasks needed to build a base on the moon and explore its surface.

The demonstrations included excavation, solar panel and antenna installation, welding, towing an inflatable module, and changing one of the rover’s tires. 

GITAI said more than half of the components used for these demonstrations have already passed vibration, radiation, and other environmental tests in a simulated space environment.

The venture’s Inchworm robotic arm has reached TRL 5, Nakanose told SpaceNews.

NASA’s Technology Readiness Level (TRL) definitions. Credit: NASA

He said most of the components on Inchworm are similar to GITAI’s 1.5-meter-long S2 robotic arm system, which the venture hopes to upgrade from TRL 6 to TRL 7 with an upcoming demonstration outside the International Space Station.

If S2 passes NASA’s final safety review in June, GITAI plans to hand S2 over to NASA for transport to the ISS on a Cygnus cargo mission in December.

The GITAI lunar rover is slated to reach TRL 6 by the end of 2024 through various ground tests, according to Nakanose.

He said the venture is in talks with several U.S. launch companies for a 2026 demonstration mission on the lunar surface, where its rover would attempt to assemble a communication antenna and solar panels, enabling it to reach TRL 7 or higher in what could potentially be a commercial mission.

U.S. growth strategy

GITAI plans to use a portion of the Series B proceeds to expand into larger engineering and flight model manufacturing facilities in Los Angeles.

The venture currently employs about 20 people at nearby Torrance, California, where the seven-year-old company opened its U.S. headquarters in June 2022. GITAI also employs around 20 people in Japan.

Nakanose said the venture expects to add 30 more employees in the U.S. this year, followed by an additional 50 people by the end of 2024.

The international expansion plan comes after GITAI said in December that it had secured its first purchase order from an undisclosed U.S.-based company. Other customers include the Japanese government and Tokyo-based multinational Toyota.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...