Space Robotics Enterprise, Astrobotic, is Making Its Moonshot

For the first time in nearly 50 years, humanity is headed back to the surface of the Moon. Astrobotic, Pittsburgh’s space robotics company is leading the way.

It all started with a dream and a few brilliant minds above a bagel shop near Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) campus. Founded in 2007, our intent was to compete for the Google Lunar XPRIZE – a competition to land on the Moon and send photos and videos back to Earth. No team ever won the prize, but it was the catalyst for us and others to get started on the moon mission. Today, we are a lunar logistics company that delivers payloads (cargo) to the lunar surface. Think of it as having a seat on a lunar bus – all sorts of ideas, technologies, and experiments are aboard – and Astrobotic Technology Inc. is providing the lunar landers, rovers, and space tech to get there. Interest in the Moon and space exploration has reignited this past decade, but it wasn’t always so favorable. 

Astrobotic CEO, John Thornton
Astrobotic CEO, John Thornton

Traditionally, only billionaires and wealthy governments have had access to space. Back in 2007, Astrobotic was a brand-new company formed during a financial crisis, trying to break into a highly exclusive space industry. We almost closed our doors several times. In the face of mass skepticism, we created our chance to achieve what only superpowers have done before: land on the surface of the Moon. Today, as I walk the halls of our new headquarters housing Astrobotic’s growing team of 158 brilliant minds, I remember the times investors laughed at our pitch deck. They could not imagine how a tiny company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, could achieve an out-of-this-world dream. 

From inception, contract after contract fueled our team to develop new technologies and innovative space technology. Scientists, universities, countries, and even the public wanted their own moonshot. We made history and solidified our lead in the aerospace industry by securing a record fifteen commercial customers (including NASA) from seven different countries aboard Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One, our maiden lunar mission. We procured United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket for our Peregrine lunar lander, which is slated to be the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the Moon since the Apollo missions nearly 50 years ago and will carry scientific instruments, technology demonstrations, time capsules, and more in mid-2022. 

After spending our first few years developing multiple rovers and landers, forming partnerships, and signing many contracts, we opened the doors to our new 47,000 sq. ft. headquarters in October 2020. This officially cemented our place in history as Pittsburgh’s very first space robotics company and one of the largest private facilities in the world dedicated entirely to lunar operations. In it, our team will continue developing rovers, building landers, and engineering novel space navigation systems.  

Recently, Astrobotic entered a $199.5 million NASA contract to deliver VIPER, a water-hunting rover to the surface of the Moon aboard our Griffin lander. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket will be used to launch the Griffin lunar lander to the South Pole of the Moon. When VIPER disembarks from Griffin’s ramps onto the lunar surface in 2023, it will survey the surface and subsurface for water ice, which could be used for breathable air and rocket propellant in the future for deep space explorers. VIPER could be the first step toward utilizing resources in the space environment – rather than carting them all from Earth – to enable more affordable and sustainable space exploration. 

To date, we have two fully-funded lunar lander missions on the books, more than 60 prior, and ongoing NASA and commercial technology contracts worth upwards of $325 million. Astrobotic was selected as a delivery provider of NASA payloads to the Moon on the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. According to the CLPS, Astrobotic will be a 10-year provider of delivery services for NASA payloads to the lunar surface. The CubeRover is our unique offering that allows companies, governments, universities, non-profits, and individuals to send payloads to the lunar surface.  

I am incredibly proud to be the CEO of Astrobotic and lead this team. I still think of Astrobotic as a blue-collar space agency influenced by our roots here in Pittsburgh’s North Side. Our approach is to work hard and deliver great technology, rather than make a big splash or overpromise. I believe this is why we flourished when other larger startups backed by wealthy investors failed.  We were focused, challenged, and driven to execute a new reality for the space industry, all while staying in the place we call home – Pittsburgh. 

Updated on March 29th, 2023