Spacebit Founder Pavlo Tanasyuk with the Asagumo rover during a trip to explore lava tubes in Japan's Komokado Kazaana cave in 2019. The 1.3-kilogram rover is designed to walk in similar lava tubes on the moon. Credit: Spacebit

SAN FRANCISCO – The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting Spacebit to rethink some elements of its strategy for building and testing robotic vehicles like the miniature rover scheduled to reach the moon next year.

London-based Spacebit plans to ward off supply chain disruption with two rover designs. The firm also is expanding its engineering staff and preparing for assembly on three continents.

As other startups cut costs to survive the pandemic and disruption in economic activity, Spacebit is hiring. The firm with employees in the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, the United States and Japan will hire five to seven engineers this month, Spacebit Founder Pavlo Tanasyuk told SpaceNews.

Tanasyuk established Spacebit in 2014 while he was CEO of Monexy, a cloud-based Eastern European payment system. With financial support from Tanasyuk and private investors, Spacebit has enough money to continue its work for a year and a half, Tanasyuk said.

In the meantime, the company is focused on ensuring work continues in spite of the pandemic.

Spacebit already has approved the design for Asagumo, a 1.3-kilogram rover scheduled to fly in 2021 on Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander. To prevent supply chain issues from halting progress, Spacebit is looking for ways to produce the rover with two sets of parts.

“The biggest concern at the moment is supply chains,” Tanasyuk said. “The two designs are very similar but they will be using components from different suppliers.”

Spacebit also will buy three sets of spacecraft parts and ensure employees can assemble and test rovers in the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan.

“I believe that this pandemic will be in waves,” Tanasyuk said. “Because our rover is relatively inexpensive and relatively small, multiplying parts by three is not the biggest challenge for us. Maybe I’m a bit paranoid, but that’s our current plan.”

Spacebit already has modified its testing strategy due to pandemic-related lockdowns and travel restrictions. A Spacebit engineer in Ukraine brought a 90-centimeter-long vacuum chamber into his home to test small parts.

Prior to its lunar voyage, Spacebit plans to test its rover’s ability to walk on four legs in a large vacuum chamber with regolith. For now, the firm is testing motors, cameras and printed circuit boards in the home vacuum chamber, Tanasyuk said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...