It turns out a NASA contract isn’t the only way to fund a mission on the moon.
Lunar technology startup Venturi Astrolab announced today that its first moon rover mission will bring in over $160 million in customer contracts. That mission, aptly named Mission 1, will launch and land on a SpaceX Starship as early as mid-2026.
The contract value is spread across eight customers, including:
- Argo Space Corporation, which will deploy a demonstration payload to advance the startup’s goal of harvesting water from lunar regolith;
- Astroport Space Technologies, which will demonstrate a sieving and grain separation technology, with the aim of using this tech to manufacture bricks out of lunar regolith;
- Avalon Space, which will “conduct a series of science, exploration, and sustainable development experiments focused on the emerging lunar economy,” according to a statement;
- Interstellar Lab, which will deploy two small plant pods on the lunar surface and measure the impact of the moon environment on their composition and structure;
- LifeShip, Inc, which will deliver a capsule containing a DNA seed bank and archive of Earth’s biodiversity to the lunar surface as an “off-world backup of our biosphere,” CEO Ben Haldeman said.
The three remaining customers were not disclosed.
Astrolab has developed a rover it calls Flexible Logistics and Exploration, or Flex, that will be capable of carrying 1,500 kilograms of payload to the lunar surface. The Hawthorne, California-based startup announced its launch agreement with SpaceX in March. At the time, Astrolab said that it had developed the Flex rover in a module system, as opposed to the bespoke approach of previous lunar rovers, which were custom-designed for each mission.
“Our Astrolab team has created much more than a rover for use on the Moon or Mars,” said Astrolab founder and CEO Jaret Matthews said in March. “We’ve created a logistics system that can accommodate a wide variety of cargo. We expect that that this approach will help establish a permanent lunar outpost on the Moon at a lower cost and in less time than previously envisioned.”
The rover wasn’t just designed for cargo – or the moon. While this first Flex mission will maneuver autonomously, the rover can be modified to carry two astronauts in an unpressurized configuration. The startup’s eventual aim is to play a vital role in on-moon transportation, with SpaceX and others supplying transporation to the lunar surface and companies like Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines developing landers. In the longer term, Astrolab is even looking to send its rovers to Mars.
Astrolab is one of likely a handful of companies that has submit a bid under NASA’s Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services contract, which is looking for solutions that could transport astronauts around the lunar South Pole. That contract is expected to be awarded in March 2023.