Startup Astrolab unveils its manned lunar rover design

Capitalism in space: A small startup company, Astrolab, yesterday unveiled its concept for a manned lunar rover, designed for NASA’s Artemis program.

The company has already built a full scale prototype, which it tested in Death Valley. It also intends to try to win NASA’s contract for building it, with bidding expected to begin in only a few months.

Astrolab will likely have major competition for the LTV contract. Lockheed Martin announced in May 2021 a partnership with General Motors to design lunar rovers but said at the time their concept was still in the early stages. Northrop Grumman announced in November it was working with several companies on a lunar rover design but also provided few technical details.

By contrast, Astrolab, based in Hawthorne, California, is a 15-person company founded two years ago after [Jaret Matthews, the founder of the company,] left SpaceX.

In a rational world, Astrolab’s small size and newness would not matter, if its design was best. In the strange world of our modern federal government, however, the political clout of big companies like General Motors and Northrop Grumman could easily be more important, even if their designs are mediocre and cost much more. Their designs might not be inferior, but their clout cannot be ignored. It will make Astrolab’s success far more difficult, requiring this startup to offer something much more superior to have a chance of winning.

At the same time, the competition might very well force the older big space companies to up their game, which will be all to the good, for everyone.