Space startup Astrolabs has signed a contract with SpaceX to send its rover to the Moon as soon as 2026 on board the space company's Starship rocket.
The startup is hoping to have its Flexible Logistics and Exploration (FLEX) rover be a part of the 2,200-pound payload scheduled to be delivered to the lunar surface by SpaceX's mammoth super-rocket in a matter of just over three years from now — an ambitious plan considering SpaceX has yet to launch its rocket into orbit once.
The goal is to deliver the rover to near the Moon's south pole.
"Because our rover can traverse up to a couple thousand kilometers in a given year, we’re less sensitive to exactly where we land," Astrolab CEO and founder Jaret Matthews told SpaceNews. "It is definitely optimized for the south polar region because that’s fundamentally where we think that the bulk of the activity is going to be."
What the FLEX rover will actually be doing is still up in the air, as Astrolab is making sure the rover can navigate while future partners will take care of the science portion of the mission.
Astrolab will also submit its rover to NASA's upcoming Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) competition to see whether it may become part of the agency's Artemis missions in the late 2020s.
"We are certainly going to throw our hat in the ring," Matthews told SpaceNews.
Last year, the startup showed off a concept of a futuristic new lunar rover that looked a lot like a giant baby stroller for astronauts. Canadian astronaut legend Chris Hadfield took a full-scale prototype of the rover for a stroll near Death Valley, deep in the California desert, and came away impressed.
"We want to be the UPS, FedEx, and the Uber of the Moon," Matthews told The Verge at the time.
But before it can take its FLEX rover to the lunar surface, SpaceX still has to prove the viability of its towering heavy launch platform — which is far easier said than done.
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