This will be the historic countdown heard around the world as the ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket ignites and propels the Astrobotic Peregrine lander toward the moon later this year. Whether or not the Astrobotic’s first lunar mission is successful, it will be a powerful symbol of America’s commitment to not only return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo era, but to establish a sustainable presence there for the benefit of future generations. It will be the first ever commercial mission to the Moon, and is a symbol of a new era of space exploration defined by public-private partnerships. It will be the first time that a single lunar mission will enable multiple nations – including Nepal, one of the poorest countries on Earth – as well as companies, organizations and even individuals to have a chance at their Apollo moment.
A hyperlocal space company with galactic ambitions
At the heart of this landmark mission lies Astrobotic, a local entrepreneurial success story in Pittsburgh that is changing the narrative about what it means to be a local space company with galactic aspirations.
Beginning with its Carnegie Mellon University origin story, Astrobotic has grown into a 165-person (and rapidly expanding) space robotics company focused on building landers and rovers that transport and deliver customer payloads to and across the lunar surface, innovative automated systems that provide critical power and communications to customers. For continuous surface operations and building blocks technologies that support astronautics and operations at a larger scale.
Giving the world access to space
Of course, this could describe any number of recognized and emerging space companies within the rapidly growing $450 billion global space industry. What sets Astrobotic apart is the way it sees itself: The Pittsburgh company is rooted and inseparable from the community in which it physically exists. In fact, Astrobotic’s lasting legacy may not be the Peregrine mission, or even the historically important Griffin mission, which will take NASA’s VIPER rover to the Moon’s south pole to explore for water ice in 2023. It may be the truth. That Astrobotic is using outer space and the Moon to create a new paradigm of what it means to be a corporate citizen here on Earth.
Astrobotic CEO John Thornton and his team take the company’s motto, “Make space available to the world,” very seriously. Realizing that “reaching space” begins with winning hearts and minds on Earth, Astrobotic chose Manchester, a majority-minority neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, to build its headquarters.
Astrobotic then launched Moonshot Museum, a stand-alone non-profit organization that is building a professional “living lab” space experience at Astrobotic’s headquarters, providing the public with a rare look into Astrobotic’s cleanroom where landers and special rovers have been built and integrated them. The Moonshot Museum, scheduled to open in October 2022, will offer experiential space mission-based programs designed to inspire and encourage students of all ages to transform their passion or curiosity for space into a tangible space career across fields as diverse as engineering, law, politics, medicine, business or the arts.
Keystone Space Collaborative: Contract, Grow, Amplify Space Industries in the Tri-State Region
But building a space-ready talent pipeline in Pittsburgh is meaningless without creating a regional ecosystem of space-related employers like Astrobotic. To this end, Astrobot has been instrumental in building and supporting another standalone organization, the Keystone Space Collaborative. This is a non-profit organization that aims to hold, grow, and amplify business and talent in the aerospace industry across the three-state Keystone region: Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Following its successful inaugural conference, Keystone Space Collaborative demonstrated that a rich and vibrant regional space ecosystem not only exists, but is poised to emerge as an industrial engine for the global space industry. This Keystone area provides important assets – deep research and development and the strength of the applied science standard across its network of top research universities, community colleges and professional schools; rich manufacturing history and understanding of what it takes to manufacture technology; Consolidation of resources to support the creation of a new company across the region; A unique combination of essential features of the space industry. Among these are advanced technologies such as robotics, computer science, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, precision machinery, materials science, microgravity life sciences, and biomanufacturing research.
The opportunity was on full display at Keystone Space Collaborative’s inaugural conference, which drew a star-studded lineup (pun intended), including keynote presentations from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Associate Administrators Thomas Zurbuchen and Jim Reuter, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Member West Virginia Senator Shelley Capito, Pennsylvania Congressman Matthew Cartwright, John Thornton of Astrobotic, Voyager Space CEO Dylan Taylor, and many others from industry, academia, and government. At the center of the conference were the Astrobotic tours and a rare opportunity for conference attendees to witness the unveiling of the Astrobot’s ready-to-fly vehicle.
The future of Astrobotic and the Keystone region shines through the blackness of space, and it will take a community of corporate citizens like Astrobotic, with a vision of creativity, passion, and the will to execute, to anchor Pittsburgh, the Tristate and the nation as a catalyst for the new space economy.
As we watch with anticipation the landing of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander on the surface of the moon later this year, we’re confident that the words we’ve heard from Astrobotic’s Mission Control are: “Move over Houston … Keystone landed.”
Sponsored content is created and paid for by the marketer, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.