“This will be the largest market in human history.”
Justin Cyrus, co-founder and CEO of Lunar Outpost, is referring to the space economy: a range of activities that could take place around or on the moon, in orbital space around Earth, or beyond. Lunar Outpost, a company developing rovers and other technologies for land and space applications, is determined to have a place in this future, even in an increasingly crowded field of startups and gold companies looking for competition for their pie Environment.
That’s part of the reason why Colorado-based Lunar Outpost decided to seek venture capital for the first time, five years after a space startup, with its remarkable profitability. As a result, the company closed an oversubscribed $12 million seed round in May, led by Explorer 1 Fund, with participation from Promus Ventures, Space Capital, Type 1 Ventures and Cathexis Ventures.
Lunar Outpost has relied on early experience to make huge strides against its rivals, so the company already has some space missions planned for 2023 and beyond. For the first mission, Lunar Outpost will partner with Nokia and Intuitive Machines in early 2023 to send a 10-kilogram rover, called the Mobile Autonomous Exploration Platform (MAPP), to the lunar south pole. The company will also send a rover to explore the mysterious Reiner Gamma feature on the moon, a fully funded mission for NASA, also in partnership with Intuitive Machines. Most importantly, it’s part of a team that includes Northrop Grumman, Michelin, AVL and Intuitive Machines that is bidding for a contract to build a manned lunar terrain vehicle for NASA.
“We’re seeing our competitors start trying to play catch-up, and we feel that this funding can be used not only to further differentiate ourselves, to dig a little moat, but also to accelerate our timetable for commercialization of the Earth-Moon space, if you will,” Sai said. Ruth told TechCrunch in a recent interview.
another path to the moon
In some ways, Lunar Outpost has differentiated itself by a different approach to market than many other space startups. It does this by commercializing an air quality sensor designed as part of NASA’s contract with Lockheed Martin to build a prototype of a lunar orbital habitat. When Lockheed didn’t win the next phase of the contract, Lunar Outpost changed its product, using it to help the City of Denver win a $1 million contract to monitor air quality in Colorado schools. The air quality sensor, which the company calls Canary, is now in use in more than 35 states.
As a result, Lunar Outpost brought in revenue much earlier than many other space startups. “Last quarter, our revenue actually surpassed several publicly traded space companies,” Cyrus said. “It’s largely by design.”
Lunar Outpost is also working on creating a ground version of its MAPP rover series and has begun testing prototypes of 300kg-class versions for Earth and space. Cyrus said that in the future the company could even design rovers weighing more than 1,000 kilograms to move materials and extract resources on the moon. The growth of the land-based product line is another driver for seeking external investment, he added.
“We do need to build our team and build our facility to meet the demand for these ground products,” he said.
Justin Cyrus, a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Colorado School of Mines, worked on military satellite research at Lockheed Martin before joining his brothers Julian Cyrus and Forrest in 2017 · Mayne co-founded Lunar Outpost. The company’s first steps on the moon will be with rovers, but Cyrus said the long-term vision is to help create a legal and economic framework for space resources.
Lunar Outpost has set its sights on In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) — a fancy way of saying, “in space, using resources found in space.” The company, in partnership with MIT and NASA, demonstrated ISRU on the Mars Perseverance rover, using a technology called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment). It produced 5.4 grams of oxygen in one hour.
Cyrus noted that NASA received a separate award in 2020, a lunar outpost for collecting lunar samples and selling them to the agency. Lunar Outpost is one of four companies awarded under a NASA initiative that offers to sell any lunar material it collects for $1. This is largely a symbolic number that helps set norms and standards around the collection and sale of space resources, Cyrus said.
The award is structured so that NASA pays 10% of the total amount to the company at the start of the award, meaning the Lunar Outpost check is worth just 10 cents. But Lunar Outpost believes this is just the beginning.