U.S. tech firm Maxar taps startup’s software for moon mission


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – (This October 22 story has been refiled to correct headline to say software rather than robotics, first paragraph to clarify that the Olis software would run on a Maxar robotic arm, paragraphs 2 and 3 to state that the robotic arm belongs to Maxar, and paragraph 4 to remove reference to Olis building the robotic arm)

U.S. technology company Maxar Technologies Inc said it picked software developed by space startup Olis Robotics to run on a robotic arm of a lunar lander under NASA’s broader goal of human moon missions by 2024.

Maxar’s robotic arm dubbed SAMPLR, which is attached to an unnamed lunar lander bound for a mission to the moon by around 2022, will use the software to compensate for the extreme communication delays between Earth and the moon, planning robotic maneuvers on its own to fetch samples from the lunar surface.Maxar is building the robotic arm and Olis is engineering the accompanying software, one partnership of many in NASA’s program to send lunar rovers to the moon before humans get there in 2024.Olis says its software and machine learning algorithms - allowing the robotic arm to operate like a video game console by engineers sitting at desks – enables remote-controlled space exploration and manufacturing that is otherwise too costly or dangerous for humans to handle in person.

Such technology, used for years by oil and gas companies or undersea researchers, is central to futuristic ambitions of humans living and working in space, the company says.

That vision is shared by senior NASA officials as well as billionaire Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space company.

NASA is racing to send a crew of U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2024, an accelerated timeline set by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in March. 

The space agency’s Artemis program calls for privately built lunar landers, robotic rovers and the Lunar Gateway – a modular space station in orbit around the Moon with living quarters for astronauts, a lab for science and ports for visiting spacecraft. 

Westminster, Colorado-based Maxar was the first contractor selected by NASA in May to help build a propulsion module for the Gateway platform. 

Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; editing by Bill Tarrant and Stephen Coates

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