New company run by former NASA leader wants to build robot outpost near the moon

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A new startup run by a former acting NASA administrator hopes to capitalize on the recent zeal for lunar space exploration by building robotic outposts and spacecraft that will be sent to space near the moon. Their goal is to create a fleet of robotic helpers that can perform a variety of tasks near the moon, such as providing internet capabilities, collecting data, refueling spacecraft and assembling structures in lunar space.

The Quantum Space company was founded in 2021. At the helm is Steve Jurczyk, who was NASA’s associate administrator from 2018, before becoming the agency’s acting administrator when President Biden was inaugurated. After retiring in May, Jurczyk decided to team up with three additional entrepreneurs and aerospace industry experts to start this new Maryland company.

Jurczyk, the company’s president and CEO, says Quantum Space is targeting the moon, as NASA is also targeting return there. The space agency’s main human space venture right now is Artemis, a massive initiative to send the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface. In addition to conducting a series of human landings, NASA is also working with several commercial companies to send a fleet of landers and rovers to the moon to explore the environment. Given all these proposed lunar missions, Quantum Space felt there was an opportunity to create vehicles that could be useful in the area.

“We know there will be a lot of activity around and on the moon over the next decade, mainly driven by Artemis,” Jurczyk said. The edge. “But you know, national security — where civilian spaces are going, national security is going to have to go too.” Jurczyk expects Space Force and other military entities to be able to use NASA’s lunar exploration and become customers in the future.

Jurczyk says he envisions multiple types of vehicles Quantum Space could build in the coming years to help with the future influx of lunar missions. First, the company hopes to create a robotic outpost that could potentially help communicate in the region of space between regular Earth and Moon orbits, known as cislunar space. NASA has a concept for creating an Internet-like system of communications infrastructure around the moon called LunaNet, which would rely less on terrestrial technologies for navigation, communications, and data relay. Jurczyk says his company’s robotic outpost may be involved. “We believe we can be a node or nodes in that network, for both spacecraft in orbit and spacecraft on the surface,” he says.

In addition to communications, the outpost could also make observations of the Earth or the lunar surface, as well as host payloads to collect data about the lunar environment. The company also plans to provide space traffic services for spacecraft orbiting the moon. There are also options for observing Earth’s climate from a unique vantage point, as well as characterizing near-Earth objects such as asteroids. Quantum Space sees its outpost located at a specific point in space between the Earth and the Moon, known as an Earth-Moon Lagrange point, where the gravitational and centripetal forces between the two bodies are just right for spacecraft to remain relatively stable. stay. The specific Lagrange point that Quantum Space is aiming for is called L1, and it is about 38,100 miles from the moon’s surface.

In the long run, Quantum Space also wants to create its own robotic service spacecraft — essentially a satellite mechanic that can refuel the outpost and other nearby vehicles and make repairs. That way, the outpost can have a longer life in the cislunar space. Such an idea would tap into the capabilities of the growing satellite service industry, which is already trying to create maintenance robots that can fix satellites in orbit around the Earth.

Quantum Space’s focus on deploying robots in cislunar space gives it a unique advantage, Jurczyk says. Numerous commercial space companies are focused on building passenger space stations that can live in Earth’s orbit, as NASA plans to eventually retire the International Space Station and go to the moon outside that space region. Quantum Space’s outpost will be robotic only, so no humans can live on board. And Jurczyk says there aren’t many companies with a history of building vehicles for the lunar environment.

“There really aren’t any legacy systems out there to compete with,” Jurczyk says. “we can be sort of a first mover to establish capabilities and services in cislunar.”

Since Quantum Space is a young company, there is still a long way to go – one that starts with working out the design of their spacecraft. As for a budget, the initial seed funding comes from one of the four co-founders, Kam Ghaffarian. Ghaffarian, CEO of investment firm IBX, has helped fund several other aerospace ventures such as Axiom Space, Intuitive Machines, and more.

At the moment, the company is working on a pathfinder mission that would send a test robot to the Earth-Moon Lagrange point as early as spring 2024. The goal would be to demonstrate many of the capabilities that the future Quantum Space outpost would do, such as Earth and Moon observations, communications capabilities, and more.

Much needs to be done in the next two years, but it could be a little longer before NASA’s exploration of the moon is picked up. The space agency looked at its first human moon landing in 2024, but recently postponed it until 2025 at the earliest. With key rockets and hardware for Artemis experiencing repeated delays, there should be plenty of time to flesh out the cislunar space economy.

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