For NASA, Starship is how its astronauts will land on the moon during the Artemis III mission, currently scheduled for 2025. Before that, SpaceX is to conduct an uncrewed flight to demonstrate the capability of spacecraft to get to the moon and set down there in one piece.
If those schedules hold, the commercial cargo mission with the Astrolab rover could take place the next year.
Astrolab hopes a later FLEX rover could win future business from NASA, which is turning to commercial companies to provide lunar terrain vehicles for astronauts — essentially a 21st-century version of the Apollo moon buggy. Much larger companies like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are also expected to vie for the contract.
Chris Hadfield, a retired Canadian astronaut who advises Astrolab, helped with some field tests of a passenger prototype of the FLEX rover near Death Valley in California. “So it’s not just a really cool concept, but it is now already a very heavily tested vehicle,” he said.
Farther into the future, the company has even grander visions. “Ultimately our goal is to have a fleet of rovers both on the moon and Mars,” Mr. Matthews said. “And I really think I see these vehicles as the catalysts ultimately for the off-Earth economy.”