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Carnegie Mellon University tech firm seeks NASA contract for lunar landings

Friday, April 25, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

A Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company is seeking a contract with NASA to co-develop its lunar landing capabilities.

Astrobotic Technology Inc. has applied for one of several contracts the space agency plans to award this month for its CATALYST program, which would provide companies with hardware and facilities — but no cash — to develop the ability for a cargo vehicle with a payload of up to 500 kilograms (roughly 1,100 pounds) to have a soft lunar landing.

Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said the contract under which NASA would partner with the small Strip District company meshes well with Astrobotic's goals. The company has a tentative October 2015 launch date to send a robot to the moon. It would travel along the surface and transmit a video signal to Earth to claim the Google Lunar XPrize.

Thornton said Astrobotic has won 16 contracts with NASA.

“Developing the capability to do this with NASA would be a big thing. No funds would be exchanged, but they would help out with people, with testing and test parts. There is a huge amount of in-kind support we'd both be investing in the same thing,” Thornton said.

Astrobotic ultimately hopes to deliver commercial robotic payloads to the moon.

“Think of us as the FedEx or UPS of the moon. And once we're there, we'll be a utility delivering power and bandwidth,” Thornton said.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, sent a letter to NASA endorsing Astrobotic's application.

“I have been informed that Astrobotic Technology has developed the technical capability, business model, and payload customer pipeline for regular, affordable commercial lunar cargo delivery through robotic landings,” Casey wrote.

Casey said a continuing partnership between NASA and Astrobotic has the potential to create a ripple effect in manufacturing, research and development in the region.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or




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