WASHINGTON – Two startups recently raised a total of $ 25 million in initial rounds to enforce moon and asteroid mission plans, showing continued interest in space launches despite wider market uncertainty.
Lunar Outpost announced on May 24 that it had received an initial round of $ 12 million from several investors. The Explorer 1 Fund led the round with the participation of Promus Ventures, Space Capital, Type 1 Ventures and Cathexis Ventures.
Based in Golden, Colorado, Lunar Outpost will use the funds to further develop a series of robotic lunar rovers. The company is working on its first rover, the Mobile Autonomous Prospecting Platform (MAPP), which will take off in 2023 on the Intuitive Machines IM-2 lunar landing module. The second rover will take off on another Intuitive Machines landing module in 2024, both of which are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Services Program.
The funding “allows us to build another class of robotic systems on the moon,” Justin Cyrus, CEO of Lunar Outpost, said in an interview. While each MAPP weighs 10 to 20 kilograms, the company envisions a larger rover weighing 100 to 200 kilograms that would be able to fly on a lunar surface.
“We already have prototypes of this class specific to Earth,” he said. “What this allows us is to evaluate these technologies in space and rank one or two missions.”
Cyrus said the company expects the first of the larger robotic rovers to be ready to fly in late 2023 or early 2024. Lunar Outpost plans to announce a third rover mission to the moon sometime this summer, he said, but declined to say it would. would be for a larger rover or another MAPP rover.
In addition to developing lunar rovers, Lunar Outpost has also developed a range of environmental monitors called Canary for terrestrial applications. The series is profitable, and Cyrus said the company will consider using some of the funds to expand these monitors to new markets.
“We were not in a position to raise money. We didn’t need the money to survive, “he said, deciding to work with these investors to grow the company and leverage their technical and business knowledge. “We decided to raise money with these investors because they provide significant value that will help us get to the moon in a sustainable way.”
Lunar Outpost also won a NASA award in 2020 for collecting samples and transferring them to NASA. Lunar Outpost offered just $ 1 for its samples, and last August received a landmark in the form of a 10-cent check handed to Cyrus by NASA administrator Bill Nelson during the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
“That 10-cent check helped make the $ 12 million check possible,” Cyrus said, “by showing people that the world’s most respected space agency is looking for resources.”
Another startup won money for ambitions for the Moon. Headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, AstroForge announced on May 26 that it has acquired a $ 13 million seed-plus run by Initialized Capital, with investments from Seven Seven Six, EarthRise, Aera VC, Liquid 2 and Soma.
The startup, which is part of the Y Combinator trading accelerator, plans a new look at asteroid mining using patented technology, which it claims can enable the mining of platinum group metals from near-Earth asteroids.
Past companies, such as Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, tried to mine asteroids a few years ago, but failed to get beyond Earth’s orbit and initial funding rounds. Matt Gialich, co-founder and CEO, said the reduced launch costs and wider availability of satellite components make spacecraft development easier and cheaper, allowing the company to focus on the specific technologies it needs to mine asteroids.
The company’s first mission, scheduled to launch in early 2023, will place a six-unit cubesat developed by the British company OrbAstro in orbit as part of the shared SpaceX mission. This spacecraft will carry what Gialich calls an “asteroid-like material” that the company will try to obtain platinum group metals using its technology. He declined the details of the specific technology.
The second mission, launched in the summer of 2023, would fly around the asteroid to test the spacecraft and instruments and identify potential targets for later mining missions. According to the “green light” plan without failures or other failures, he said: “We are five years since this one started [mining] mission and five and a half years after the actual implementation of our mining. “
He insists the company has learned from the failures of past mining companies and focused on smaller and cheaper spaceships. “All of these people want to build a 600-meter-long spaceship worth billions of dollars and get a trillion-dollar metal,” he said, recalling investor talks. “We think we can do it by thinking about it completely differently.”
One former employee of an asteroid mining company is skeptical. “It seems to me that the history of asteroid mining is repeating itself,” said Elizabeth Frank, a planetary scientist who previously worked at Planetary Resources. tweeted May 31. It has raised several issues, including problems obtaining platinum group metals from asteroids, difficulties in identifying such metals using existing remote sensing devices, and lack of experience working with metal asteroids.
“I really wish them the best – they have a job,” she concluded.
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