Startups raise millions of dollars for moon rovers and asteroid mining


Two space businesses recently secured a total of $25 million in early funding to develop plans for lunar and asteroid expeditions, demonstrating that interest in space startups remains strong despite wider market uncertainties.

On May 24, Lunar Outpost reported that it has secured $12 million in a seed round from a number of investors. Promus Ventures, Space Capital, Type 1 Ventures, and Cathexis Ventures were among the investors in the round, which was headed by Explorer 1 Fund.

Lunar Outpost, situated in Golden, Colorado, will utilize the funds to continue developing a range of robotic lunar rovers. The Mobile Autonomous Prospecting Platform (MAPP), the company’s first rover, is being developed for Intuitive Machines’ IM-2 lunar lander, which will launch in 2023. In 2024, another Intuitive Machines lander will launch a second rover as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

In an interview, Justin Cyrus, CEO of Lunar Outpost, claimed that the money “allows us to create the next generation of robotic systems on the moon.” MAPP rovers weigh 10 to 20 kilograms apiece, but the business envisions a bigger rover weighing 100 to 200 kilograms that can operate on the lunar surface for years.

He said, “We already have Earth-specific prototypes of that kind.” “We’ll be able to space-rate those technologies and plan a trip or two as a result of this.”

According to Cyrus, the first of the bigger robotic rovers should be ready for flight by late 2023 or early 2024. He stated that Lunar Outpost expects to announce a third rover expedition to the moon this summer, but he wouldn’t disclose whether it will be for the bigger rover or another MAPP rover.

Lunar Outpost created a range of environmental monitors named Canary for terrestrial uses in addition to lunar rovers. That line of business is successful, and Cyrus said that the corporation may use part of the funds to extend such monitors into other regions.

“We weren’t in a situation where we needed to raise funds.” He chose to cooperate with these investors to both build the firm and tap into their technological and commercial experience, saying, “We didn’t need the money to live.” “We picked these investors to raise money because they give a significant amount of value in helping us reach the moon in a sustainable manner.”

In 2020, Lunar Outpost was also awarded a NASA grant to gather samples and send them to NASA. Last August, Cyrus got a milestone payout in the form of a cheque for ten cents, which was presented to him by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “By showing people that the most recognized space organization in the world is looking at resources,” Cyrus added, “the 10-cent check helped facilitate the $12 million check.”

Another firm gathered funds with the goal of going to the moon. AstroForge, located in Huntington Beach, California, reported on May 26 that it had secured $13 million in a “seed-plus” round-headed by Initialized Capital, with Seven Seven Six, EarthRise, Aera VC, Liquid 2 and Soma also participating.

The firm, which is a member of the Y Combinator business incubator, promises to take a new look at asteroid mining, claiming to be able to mine platinum-group metals from near-Earth asteroids using proprietary technologies.

Asteroid mining has been tried in the past by companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, but they failed to go beyond Earth orbit and first fundraising rounds. Reduced launch costs and increased availability of satellite components, according to Matt Gialich, co-founder and CEO, make it simpler and cheaper to create spacecraft, letting the business concentrate on the specialized technology it requires for asteroid mining.

On a SpaceX rideshare mission, the firm’s maiden flight, scheduled for launch in early 2023, will deliver a six-unit CubeSat created by British company OrbAstro into orbit. That spaceship will transport an “asteroid-like substance” from which the business hopes to extract platinum-group metals using its technique, according to Galich. He was adamant about not going into any specifics regarding the technology.

A second trip, scheduled to launch in the summer of 2023, will fly by an asteroid to test the spacecraft and equipment as well as identify prospective targets for future mining operations. “We’re five years away from launching that [mining] expedition and five and a half years away from really performing our extraction,” he added, based on a “green-light” timeline with no failures or other delays.

He claims that the corporation had learned from previous mining endeavor failures by concentrating on smaller, less costly aircraft. “All these folks want to construct a multibillion-dollar 600-meter-long spaceship, and they’ll acquire a trillion dollars worth of metal,” he added, remembering talks with investors. “We believe we can achieve it by approaching it from a fresh perspective.”

An ex-employee of an asteroid mining company is dubious. “It seems like the history of asteroid mining is repeating itself,” planetary scientist Elizabeth Frank, who formerly worked at Planetary Resources, tweeted on May 31. She brought up a number of concerns, including the difficulties of extracting platinum-group metals from asteroids, the difficulty of recognizing such metals with current remote sensing technologies, and a lack of expertise in dealing with metallic asteroids. “I really wish them well – they’ve got their job cut out for them,” she said.

Source: Space News


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