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Pittsburgh space startup to bring rovers to Mars New Year

The CubeRover is a smaller moon rover that might someday be used to map large areas of the moon as part of a “swarm.”

A few new extraterrestrial visitors will be rolling in to this year's Mars New Year festival.

Pittsburgh North Side-based lunar logistics startup Astrobotic will bring several moon rovers to the event later this August.

Mars Mayor Gregg Hartung announced the partnership at the borough council meeting Monday night.

“We didn't know what they were bringing before, so we worked that out within the last week or so,” Hartung said.

Astrobotic describes itself as a “lunar logistics” company, and works with government and commercial entities to send payloads to the moon. The startup has partnered with NASA and plans to send its Peregrine and Griffin lunar landers to the moon in the next few years. It has worked with a number of other aerospace companies, including SpaceX.

In 2019, Astrobotic founder John Thornton spoke at the Mars New Year banquet, but this will be the first time the startup has had a presence at the festival itself.

“They've been with us, but they've never had an actual display or exhibit,” Hartung said.

The rovers that will be at Mars New Year are the actual vehicles that will later be sent into space. They'll be on display on Pittsburgh Street for visitors to interact with.Alivia Chapla, senior marketing and communications specialist at Astrobotic, explained that the rovers that the company will bring along are of all shapes and sizes.“One is called Polaris, and the cool thing about it is that it's pretty big, almost 6 and a half feet tall,” Chapla said. “You can think about it as a pickup truck on the moon: that's what it's designed for. It's meant to be a commercial option for people doing science on the moon.”She said it's similar to the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) “that NASA contracted us to take to the moon in 2023.”Chapla is also looking forward to introducing Mars visitors to the other two rovers, Red Rover and CubeRover.“We are engineering three different sizes for CubeRover, and one is a really tiny guy, around the size of a shoebox,” she said. “We've won a lot of contracts to further CubeRover, and the little guys are really exciting. Eventually, we could use them for swarm technology to map the moon really quickly and cover a lot of ground. These would be autonomous, and do it themselves.”Astrobotic team members will also speak at Mars New Year. Speakers include Sharad Bhaskaran, head of Astrobotic's Planetary Lander Department and mission director of Peregrine Mission 1, as well as Sam Moore, executive director of Astrobotic's Moonshot Museum in Pittsburgh, scheduled to open in summer 2022,The Moonshot Museum will also host an interactive activity where Mars New Year visitors will have the chance to write a message that will be sent to the moon in one of Astrobotic's future missions.

Hartung also confirmed that nine NASA employees will attend the festival. The Mars New Year committee is still in the process of meeting with NASA representatives to determine the final speaker list, but Andy Aldrin, the son of Buzz Aldrin, has been confirmed to attend.The fan-favorite drone show has been expanded to both Friday and Saturday nights. Mars Bank and Planet Mart will sponsor the show, and Drone Addiction will host an area at the festival where kids can fly drones under a net and move them through an obstacle course.

The Polaris rover is a larger vehicle. Alivia Chapla, senior marketing and communications specialist at Astrobotic, described Polaris as a “pickup truck on the moon.”
Astrobotic, a Pittsburgh space company, will bring several rovers to the Mars New Year festival.Submitted photo