By Eric Peterson | Sep 11, 2022
Rovers, air quality monitors, and in-situ resource development products
Growing up close to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Cyprus worked on military satellites and other projects for Lockheed Martin before starting Lunar Outpost. "I've been tracking the space economy, the space ecosystem my entire life," says Cyprus.
The ongoing commercialization of space and decreasing launch costs sparked his entrepreneurialism. "We just saw a market opportunity opening up that wouldn't have been possible five, 10 years prior," he says. "On the space side, robotics are becoming essential to a lot of the missions that are being run. It really allows us an entry point into some of these explorations and discovery-class missions, and also starting to build out some of the infrastructure needed in space."
Lunar Outpost currently has three products: Canary, MOXIE, and MAPP.
Canary is an air quality monitor that emerged from a project with Lockheed Martin developing life support systems for space stations of the future. "Unfortunately, Lockheed didn't get the next phase of that contract, but we ended up with an air quality monitor that detected everything from particulate matter to CO2 to other air pollutants that was significantly better than what was out in the field," says Cyprus. "The City and County of Denver was putting out an RFP for a new air quality monitor that was significantly cheaper and more reliable than some of the other sensors on the market. We ended up beating out six other companies to win that RFP, then we helped the City and County of Denver win the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, which was a $1 million prize focused on improving air quality in Denver."
While the initial focus has been air quality near schools, Canary has also been adopted by other governments as well as the oil and gas industry, but the off-Earth market remains a big target. "It will definitely have applications in space," says Cyprus. "When you're looking at habitats in space or any of these commercial stations they're talking about, air quality is crucial."
Developed by a team led by NASA and MIT, MOXIE is converting carbon dioxide to breathable oxygen on the Perseverance rover on Mars today. "We're sending code from our offices in Colorado up to Mars each week," says Cyprus. "It's basically pulling the CO2 out of the Martian atmosphere and turning it into oxygen. That's not only important for life support systems, but also in the future for rocket fuel -- so we can refuel things like SpaceX's Starship on the way back."
MAPP is "a fully spaceflight-ready rover" slated for its first mission in mid-2023, says Cyprus. "We already have multiple missions to the Moon booked. The first one is fully commercial to the Lunar South Pole, which we're really excited about not only from the perspective that that's where astronauts are heading for Artemis but also because of the resource implications."
The second mission is a NASA mission that's already fully funded. "That is heading to Reiner Gamma," says Cyprus. "It's actually a magnetic anomaly on the lunar surface that's been puzzling scientists for a couple hundred years, and our job, along with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, is to go figure out why that's the case."
With a new European office in Luxembourg, Lunar Outpost manufactures its products at its facility in Golden. "We take quite a different approach [to manufacturing] than most aerospace companies," says Cyprus. "A lot of our electronics, our entire mechanical system, our specialized thermal technologies and dust mitigation technologies for all these robotic systems are all built in-house, all built in Colorado."
"There are a few components that we don't build that make their way onto the rovers or onto the Canaries, but those are few and far between. A big part of the reason our tech works -- and it works extremely well -- is we do leverage our in-house capabilities here in Colorado and do manufacture here in Colorado, so we can do some pretty rapid design iteration, testing, and improvement. But if you buy something off the shelf, you're kind of stuck with what you've got, whether it works well or not."
To accomplish the task, the company has CNC machines, bandsaws, drill presses, and additive manufacturing technology, as well as an onsite electronics lab and clean room.
Closing on $12 million in seed funding in May 2022, Lunar Outpost is growing rapidly. "Ever since , it's been pretty steady growth," says Cyprus. "The last two years have been much more rapid growth. That has been driven by the fact that we have multiple products that we have out in the market being sold to customers."
Cyprus says he has an ambition to make Lunar Outpost "the largest space robotics company on Earth." It's well on its way: "We have the most missions booked for the lunar surface of any robotics company. We're one of the first companies to operate on Mars, and we have thousands of products operating here on Earth today. So by this time next year, we're going to be one of very, very few organizations operating simultaneously on three planetary bodies. That's a pretty cool milestone for us that shows where we're headed as a company."
He adds, "The space industry's no longer 20 years out. We already have technology operating on Mars today. We're sending multiple rovers to the Moon in the next 12 months. These are launches that are already bought and paid for heading up on SpaceX Falcon 9s, landing on Intuitive Machines Nova-C landers. This is real, it's happening, and it's happening now."
Challenges: "Our biggest challenge is always finding the right people," says Cyprus. "Yeah, you can go out and hire -- I think there are candidates out there -- but we've been extremely particular about who we bring on board, which sometimes has slowed down growth, but in the long term is going to help us be a much more sustainable company."
The market slide of public space companies is also affecting the sector, he adds. "The good news is that it hasn't really reached the private markets. There are a lot of very strong companies in the private markets that are excelling, and that is mainly because they have solid revenue streams and have waited to go public until they have a very solid foundation."
Opportunities: Noting that forecasts have pegged the space market at $1 trillion in 2040, Cyprus sees potential in both the current catalog and forthcoming products. "As we start bringing that access cost to space down by orders of magnitude -- not only launch but the access cost for robotic labor once you get there -- then truly you start enabling hundreds of thousands of different types of business plans to close and succeed," he says. "Massive market opportunity."
Cyprus also higlights terrestrial applications -- "mainly industrial markets," he says -- for the company's products. "We still do make autonomous systems for extreme environments here on Earth," he explains. "We have robots, we have autonomous sensor systems that are utilized by folks like Project Canary, Montrose, the air quality industry, the State of Colorado, and the EPA. We also have robotics systems that are going to be announced very soon that have some very big pilots lined up that we see being an important future part of our business as well.
The company is also offering payload space: Its first two MAPP missions are fully booked -- MIT and Nokia are on the first -- but later missions have availability. "If you want to go to the Moon, if you want to join us on the lunar surface, whether it's for science exploration, whether it's for space tourism, whether it's for helping set up infrastructure on the Moon, we're the rovers to do that."
Needs: Employees and "the right partnerships," says Cyprus, forecasting the company to roughly double to about 120 employees by mid-2023. "We want to work with and deal with people who want to innovate and apply technologies, whether it's extreme robotics systems or autonomous sensor systems, in their industries."
"Anytime you want to open up a new market, I think we need people who want There are people who want to innovate within their market, and at this point, we'd love to hear from them. If they want to find ways to utilize our technologies in new markets, that's something we'd be very open to."