Astrobotic Debuts Massive New ‘Moon Base’ in Pittsburgh

Astrobotic Debuts Massive New ‘Moon Base’ in Pittsburgh
Astrobotic systems engineer Ander Solorzano stands beside a test model of the company's Peregrine lunar lander currently in development. It's set to be the first American lander on the Moon since the Apollo missions. (Photo: Astrobotic)

The space robotics manufacturer Astrobotic Technology unveiled its new 47,000-square-foot headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this week. The massive facility will serve as mission control for its lunar payload delivery services and upcoming NASA contracts, and I for one think they’re missing a huge opportunity by not calling it a moon base.

So I’m going to.

Astrobotic’s new moon base will see the development of its Peregrine and Griffin remotely operated lunar landers, both commissioned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to deliver payloads to the lunar surface. It will also house the company’s offices, labs, and manufacturing sectors, including a “clean room” and “high bay” for assembling spacecraft, and is “the largest private facility in the world dedicated to lunar logistics,” per a company press release.

Astrobotic has secured more than a dozen commercial contracts around the globe for its lunar delivery services. In May 2019, it won a $US79.5 ($112) million deal with NASA to deliver payloads of scientific instruments to the moon aboard Peregrine. Its mission, currently scheduled for July 2021, is set to make Peregrine the first American lander on the Moon since the Apollo missions. In June, Astrobotic clinched another lucrative deal: a $US199.5 ($281) million contract to ferry NASA’s VIPER rover to search for water near the Moon’s south pole in 2023.

“You [Astrobotic] are currently leading the market with seventeen contracts in place for your first mission with customers in seven countries,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The Commerce Department will continue to make resources available to you and to the broader U.S. commercial space industry to ensure that we remain the leader in space commerce.”

During their time puttering about on the lunar surface, Peregrine and Griffin will be operated out of Astrobotic’s Pittsburgh HQ . The moon base will also manufacture the company’s “lines of landers, rovers, autonomous spacecraft navigation systems, and other space technologies.”

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said the company’s seen explosive growth over the past 18 months, and its new, top-of-the-line facility is indicative of that recent success.

“[W]e grew from a staff of 18 to more than 100 employees, with two funded lander missions and a rover mission to the Moon, and multiple contracts to develop exciting new space technologies,” he said. “It’s still surreal.”

Looking ahead, Astrobotic said construction is currently underway to expand the facility by adding a rover test pit, a drone flying arena, and additional areas for offices, labs, and manufacturing. Hopefully, they’ll consider giving it a catchy lunar-themed name as well. So many good moon puns wasted!