Space agencies and companies are pushing the second space age. Start-up Quantum Space aims to deliver the robotic infrastructure.
In 2025, humans are expected to walk on the surface of the moon for the first time since 1972. When they land there, they should be able to draw on a previously established infrastructure on the surface and in orbit.
The plans are part of the Artemis program, led by NASA, which aims to establish a long-term permanent presence on and around the moon with the Lunar Gateway station. From there, research missions into deep space and a manned mission to Mars will be supported.
Artemis involves numerous international space agencies such as ESA, research laboratories and companies such as SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. NASA will spend nearly $93 billion on Artemis by 2025.
Robotic outposts to support missions
One company sees the largest space project since the first Space Age as an opportunity to build a service infrastructure for public and private space projects near the moon.
Co-founded in 2021 by former NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk, Quantum Space aims to capitalize on the new space age by building robotic outposts and spacecraft.
“We know there’s going to be a lot of activity around and on the Moon in the coming decade, primarily driven by Artemis,” Jurczyk tells The Verge. But Quantum's space CEO also sees the Space Force involved and other militaries as future customers: "Where civil spaces goes, national security will have to go also."
The company plans to establish the first commercial robotic outpost at the L1 Lagrange point between Earth and the Moon, where the outpost will remain stable. It will serve as a node in NASA's planned LunaNet communications, navigation and data network, as well as potentially collect data from Earth and the moon. The orbit would allow, for example, analysis of climate from a unique vantage point or observation of asteroids near Earth.
Quantum Space wants to offer robotic services
In the long term, Quantum Space wants to offer maintenance robots for spacecraft that can refuel and repair outposts, satellites or vehicles. In this way, the company also wants to extend the lifetime of the planned outpost.
Currently, space missions such as the recently activated James Webb telescope are limited in their lifespan and maneuverability by their power supply, and repairs are impossible.
The idea of such service robots is not new, but according to Jurczyk, no company has yet focused on the space between the moon and Earth - called cislunar space. Other companies want to support satellites near Earth or build space stations in Earth orbit, for example.
Quantum Space, on the other hand, wants to develop robotic systems exclusively for cislunar space. “There’s really no legacy systems to compete with there,” says Jurczyk. “We can sort of be a first mover to establish capabilities and services in cislunar.”
Currently, Quantum Space is working on an initial mission to send a test robot to the L1 Lagrange point in spring 2024. There, the company will then demonstrate its ability to perform planned tasks such as communications and Earth and lunar observations. If successful, Quantum Space could then attract its first customers.