The year was 1969. The space race had just been won by the Apollo 11 Moon landing. And for many who watched Neil and Buzz walk around the Sea of Tranquility on the grainy, black and white TVs of the time, it seemed we were only a few decades away from hundreds of people living and working beyond Earth. After all, weren’t Armstrong and Aldrin charting the path forward for us all, just as the Wright Brothers did some 65 years before?
Fast forward to today, some 40-plus years later. No one lives and works on the Moon. In fact, only 12 Apollo astronauts ever set foot on lunar soil, and only three nations have landed a robot on its surface (the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China). Why is that? For one thing, lunar missions started as a government-only activity, and have stayed that way ever since. They were always enormously expensive and didn’t’ happen very often. Since the Apollo Program ended, it seems humanity’s dreams of a future on the Moon have stalled out. Until now.
In the last decade, the space industry has evolved rapidly with exciting new developments that are rekindling our ambition to go further and deeper into space. Launch vehicle costs have come down significantly with the emergence of new companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Electronics continue to get smaller, and robotic technology is becoming both cheaper and more sophisticated. Thanks to these trends, it’s now possible for private companies to launch and operate commercial missions to destinations like the Moon.
I know what you’re thinking. Commercial missions? Who would use such a service? To start, the multitude of nations and space agencies that have never had access to the Moon. There are countless lunar ideas and experiments that have been left on the shelf to gather dust for years. A private lunar shipping service allows countries around the world to explore the moon and carry out scientific experiments, grow their space economy, and inspire their young people. That’s because missions to the Moon can now be offered at a fraction of the traditional cost.
A regular and steady pipeline of shipments to the Moon is already beginning, with the opportunity to transform humanity’s lunar future. Although this sounds revolutionary, it echoes back to trends often seen when logistics paved the way for commerce. While the first Moon landing was taking place in 1969, DHL Express, now known as DHL, was also founded – the shipping company that would become the world’s largest, connecting people around the world every day. This pioneer business revolutionized international shipping by speeding it up and reducing costs. It spawned new businesses, created new markets and connected people like never before.
Commercial lunar delivery stands to do the same – opening new markets in space, connecting the planet’s economies to a burgeoning field, and bringing people together around the world onto a common service.
Seize the day
Astrobotic is one such company that’s seizing on these trends and developing a low-cost lunar delivery service by taking a shipping model approach to the Moon. In the past, spacecraft were built one at time, for a very specific suite of instruments and experiments. We take a different tack. Our Peregrine Lunar Lander will carry a variety of cargo (or “payload”, as its called in the space world) from around the world on its missions. It will be modular and adaptable to a wide variety of payload types, in much the same way that an Airbus A380 cargo plane can handle lots of diverse freight on a single flight.
With all of this in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that we are teaming up with DHL to make the Moon accessible to the world. We announced this key partnership with DHL and Airbus Defence and Space at the recent Berlin Air Show. As the Official Logistics Provider for Astrobotic’s First Mission to the Moon, DHL is delivering essential logistics services for us and our customer payloads. Airbus Defence and Space is providing vital technical support to help advance our lunar lander design.
I believe we are embarking on a new chapter in logistics history and that we will all look back on this as a historic turning point in humanity’s future beyond Earth. The future we all imagined back in 1969 will finally materialize. And it all will have started with logistics.