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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Grand Opening of the Astrobotic Technology, Inc HQ's in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Introduced by John Thornton, CEO, Astrobotic

Thank you, John, for that kind introduction, and for welcoming me to your impressive new facility. A special thanks also to Congressman Lamb, County Executive Fitzgerald, and Mayor Peduto who are joining us today.

I am pleased to be here with all of you at the Grand Opening of Astrobotic. Congratulations!

It is great to be in Pittsburgh. I am usually in Florida, Texas, or California for space events, but Pennsylvania’s rich history of manufacturing makes it a true asset to the space industry.

Pennsylvania is home to 536,000 manufacturing workers. And Astrobotic’s new headquarters will add another 95 new jobs here in the Manchester neighborhood. The 47,000 square foot facility will be the primary hub for lunar logistics in the United States, and it features office, cleanroom, and lab space, as well as test facilities and a machine shop. There is a dedicated space for assembling Astrobotic’s moon landers. And a state-of-the-art Mission Control Room, where your scientists will run the landers’ power, communications and rover activity taking place during Moon missions.

Your American-designed, American-made landers “Peregrine” and “Griffin” will provide foundational services for opening the Moon to science, exploration, and commercial activity. Peregrine is slated for launch in 2021 and will be the first commercial lander to touch down on the moon. In fact, it will be the first lunar landing since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Can you believe that it has been almost 50 years since we’ve been to the moon?

After Peregrine, the Griffin lander will travel to the moon in 2023. Both landers will have roving capabilities. And Griffin will be responsible for delivery of NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, to the southern lunar pole. VIPER will survey the surface and subsurface for water-based ice that can be used for breathable air and rocket fuel by future deep space explorers.

The $199.5 million contract for Griffin was awarded to Astrobotic under the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. And the mission is a precursor to NASA’s planned human landing in 2024.

Astrobotic also will continue development of its CubeRover here – a compact spacecraft bus that can transport up to 6 kilograms of payload across numerous locations on the lunar surface. This month, the first CubeRover was delivered to NASA, fulfilling Astrobotic’s $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research Contract with the agency. CubeRover’s lightweight, efficient composition will dramatically reduce flight costs. Combined with its ability to integrate with a variety of technologies, it will make lunar testing available to a wider range of customers.

Looking ahead in the near-term, Astrobotic is preparing to launch the MoonRanger rover as early as 2021 or 2022. In July 2019, NASA awarded Astrobotic a $5.6 million contract to develop the 13-kilogram autonomous rover in partnership with Carnegie Mellon. The craft will provide high fidelity 3D maps of the Moon’s surface in polar regions, lunar pits, and other areas.

I am encouraged by your outstanding progress as we rise out of the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic this year and advance through economic recovery. And I am pleased that my Department’s U.S. Commercial Service could offer assistance to Astrobotic as your company continues to grow. You are currently leading the market with 17 contracts in place for your first mission with customers in 7 countries.

The Commerce Department will continue to make resources available to you and to the broader U.S. commercial space industry to ensure that the United States remains the leader in space commerce.

Commercial ventures represent roughly 80 percent of the global space economy’s more than $400 billion value. And the United States is responsible for more than half of that economic activity. With the many exciting technological advancements – like those at Astrobotic – taking place in the commercial space sector, profitable opportunities for U.S. companies will remain long into the industry’s future.

And the Trump Administration will continue its advocacy on your behalf.

In May, I had the opportunity to update the National Space Council on the work being done at the Department of Commerce to implement Space Policy Directives, in consultation with industry and other government agencies. Importantly, Space Policy Directive 1, establishes the goal of returning to the Moon in 2024 in partnership with U.S. commercial space companies.

Your work here is essential to that. 

Space Policy Directives 2 and 3, ensure that U.S. space companies will remain competitive in the fast-developing global markets for commercial remote sensing products and services, and that we keep space safe and sustainable for exploration, and for the growth of space commerce. This is a very important mission, as the space environment grows more congested by the day.

Last month, the International Space Station had to execute an “avoidance maneuver” when NASA flight controllers identified a piece of space debris. And we watched closely last week as an old Russian satellite and a Chinese rocket body nearly collided with one another. Space traffic and debris threatens Astronauts aboard the ISS, U.S. and allied investments in space, and the overall growth of space commerce.

The Department Commerce is tackling these challenges with energy and enthusiasm but needs additional resources to make rapid progress. And, commercial firms will play a key role.

In June, I visited AGI, another Pennsylvania firm, and saw their extraordinary software and tracking capabilities designed to improve space situational awareness. We have been talking with many other companies that can contribute very quickly. 

An independent review by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) earlier this year validated our collaborative approach, and observed that “the Office of Space Commerce (OSC) is best suited to perform space traffic management tasks within the federal government.” NAPA also called upon Congress to enact, without delay, appropriations for OSC to carry out the task of integrating whole of government capabilities to provide SSA and STM. We are currently working with Congress to make this happen.

President Trump’s May 6, 2020, Executive Order Encouraging the International Support for the Recovery and Utilization of Space Resources also clears the way for the American commercial space industry to leverage the Moon’s resources.

And the Artemis Accords, an international agreement signed last Tuesday, will pave the way for international cooperation as we look ahead to a sustainable human presence on the Moon. The Artemis Accords establish a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty, to create a safe and transparent space environment that facilitates exploration, science, and commercial activities for the benefit of all humankind.

My congratulations to Administrator Bridenstine and our colleagues at NASA for their work bringing this to fruition. Eight nations signed the Accords: The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, and the United Arab Emirates. This coalition represents an incredible amount of space knowledge, investment, and infrastructure.

We will rely on the entire commercial space industry to solidify our U.S. presence in space. So I am grateful for Astrobotic’s commitment to shaping the world of artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, and a future that includes sustainable economic activity in space.

With three lunar missions now booked, Astrobotic is not only an American success story but a shining example of the ingenuity, work ethic and tenacity this region of Pennsylvania has long been known for.

So once again congratulations on the opening of your new headquarters. I am looking forward to the innovation and advancements you all will achieve here. Thank you.