In Science and Space: Astrobotic announced plans on September 19 to develop a commercial lunar energy service. This is essential for building long-term infrastructure on the moon, the company says.
According to Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, such a power system is essential for a system that can survive on the moon for long periods of time. “What we need is long-term infrastructure that will last for years,” he said in an interview. “We see this as a lunar grid, mostly at the poles.”
At the International Space Congress here, Astrobotic announced his LunaGrid project. It combines a solar array the company is developing with a tether rover that continuously powers customers on the moon.
Power is generated by vertical solar array technology, a solar array deployed vertically and optimized so that the sun always operates at the lunar pole, low on the horizon. Astrobotic won his $6.2 million award from NASA on August 23rd to develop and test a prototype of this solar his array.
The first operational LunaGrid system is he planned for 2028, but the first elements could be ready sooner than that. “It could be deployed in the middle of the decade, in time for the Artemis astronauts to actually plug in,” he said. “This is not a long-term technology that requires further development.”
Astrobotic expects LunaGrid’s first customers to be Artemis partners who primarily support her NASA and its Lunar Exploration Program. “It’s probably going to stay that way until something like this exists,” Thornton said. “That way, we can open up more commercial opportunities.” When something like LunaGrid becomes available, missions become more affordable because you don’t have to develop your own surface energy system and can operate even on the moon’s night. Without its own propulsion system, “vehicles could be simpler and more robust,” he said. “We believe that by eliminating all vehicle power systems, we may benefit from incorporating this into the Artemis architecture.”
Thornton said it’s too early to discuss the price Astrobotic will charge for electricity delivered through LunaGrid. He estimated that the system would cost “hundreds of millions, not billions” to develop. The LunaGrid announcement comes after Astrobotic bought the assets of Masten Space Systems in a bankruptcy auction earlier this month for him for $4.5 million. Astrobotic said he confirmed the deal on Sept. 13, California’s Mojave Air and Space Port tower facility, to continue flying its suborbital technology demonstrator.
“Masten’s Ballistic Rocket and Propulsion Test Center is a national asset to the space industry. We are excited to operate these services internationally and extend them to businesses, governments and space agencies,” said Thornton in a statement regarding the acquisition. Astrobotic will also rehire his Masten employees and expand his workforce to more than 200 employees between Mojave and Astrobotic’s Pittsburgh headquarters. But the company did not mention the lunar lander technology Masten was developing or the company’s plans to deploy his CLPS (NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services) award.
“On behalf of the Masten team, I am pleased to support Astrobotic in our joint mission to bring space to the world,” said Dave Masten, founder of Masten Space Systems, in a statement. “With this combined organization, we can continue to provide critical services to our customers and have a greater impact on the future of humanity in space.”