Astrobotic Technology has announced that it has reached a deal with United Launch Alliance to carry its Peregrine Lunar Lander to the moon in 2019, the 50Th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The Peregrine will fly 35 kilograms of payloads provided by 11 customers from six nations.

What is Astrobotic Technology?

Astrobotic Technology is a privately held company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 2008 to develop a transportation service for commercial businesses and government agencies to the lunar surface. The company was, at one time, a participant in the Google Lunar XPrize, but dropped out at the end of 2016 when it decided to concentrate on a sustainable business model.

The 2019 launch is the first it has scheduled. Astrobotic is a participant in NASA’s Lunar Catalyst program and is partnered with DHL Shipping and Airbus.

What is the Peregrine lunar lander?

The Peregrine lunar lander can deliver either 35 kilograms or 265 kilograms to the lunar surface depending on which launch vehicle is used and how much fuel is stored on board. The lander has an autonomous landing system that will allow it to touch down within a 100 meters of its target. It will use a cluster of five ISE-100 thrusters to slow its descent to the moon’s surface. The lander has a height of 1.5 meters and a width of 2.5 meters.

The role of commercial companies in lunar exploration

Along with its primary American business rival, Moon Express, Astrobotic would like to become a partner in a NASA led return to the moon.

The space agency is developing two parts of a lunar transportation system, the Orion deep spacecraft and the heavy lift Space Launch System. Commercial companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are also developing lunar capable hardware. However, NASA has not had an active lunar lander development program since the Constellation program was canceled by President Barack Obama.

Companies like Astrobotic and Moon Express could fill that gap with privately developed lunar landers, initially for delivering cargo, but eventually people, to the moon’s surface.

Astrobotic intends to demonstrate to NASA with its first mission that it has the capability of providing transportation services to the lunar surface for paying customers.

The company is charging $1.2 million per kilogram for payloads attached to the Peregrine Lander. Such a price structure would be very attractive to both NASA and the various private customers that Astrobotic has been cultivating.

One model for a NASA partnership with commercial companies such as Astrobotic would be a lunar COTS competition in which companies compete for space agency development money and contracts. The potential rivals for Astrobotic in such a contest include Moon Express and a proposed enterprise by Blue Origin called Blue Moon.