The Berlin-based start-up PTScientists has ambitious plans. It wants to be the first German company to send its own lunar module into space. Between 2020 and 2022, it is supposed to land on the Moon twice. Until a few weeks ago, the team led by company founder Robert Boehme was still on schedule, however now, they are having to accept a severe setback.
Delays in the disbursement of investor and subsidy money meant that outstanding invoices could no longer be paid. For legal reasons, PTScientists then had no choice but to file for insolvency at the Berlin Charlottenburg District Court on July 5, 2019. Now, the insolvency administrator and the company’s management have to look for new investors or try to get additional support from current partners.
“The petition for insolvency proceedings sets us back a little, as we first have to secure further financing for the company together with the insolvency administrator,” says Robert Boehme. “But due to the clear progress and success we have achieved in the last months, we have the best prerequisites to emerge stronger from the insolvency proceedings and implement our lunar mission as planned.”
The German “new-space company” is the only company in Europe with a lunar landing device in an advanced stage of development. That is why Boehme is not giving up. Despite the petition for insolvency, PTScientists’ engineers are to continue their work so as to make the first European lunar mission a reality.
ArianeGroup as partner
Only a few weeks ago, in May 2019, PTScientists and ArianeGroup agreed on far-reaching cooperation for future lunar missions, such as the planned ISRU mission of the European Space Agency (ESA). “We are very honored by the trust ArianeGroup has placed in us,” said Boehme at the official announcement of the cooperation. ” For PTScientists, this is an important milestone in the development of our young company. Together, we will create a 100% European contribution to cost-effective access to the Moon.”
In that mission, the PTS scientists will provide the autonomous landing and navigation module ALINA, a spacecraft with a payload capacity of up to 300 kg, while Ariane Group will contribute its new high-performance launch vehicle Ariane 64 and its many years of expertise in propulsion systems.
Contacts with ESA had been established for some time. Already in April 2018, PTScientists was selected as one of the six commercial companies taking part in ESA’s innovative study to develop potential lunar missions that could make use of resources found on the Moon.” The Lunar Mission Definition Study aims to find out whether the agency could conduct a lunar mission using lunar services developed by commercial partners, such as pay costs and delivery to the Moon.
“Commercial partnerships are playing a growing role in the exciting ESA vision for space exploration,” says David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration. “Actions underway already include new ways to increase the use of the ISS. In the future, procuring services from industry alongside international cooperation could allow ESA to move faster in our planned exploration of the Moon”
PTScientists has recently made huge investments in order to meet all the requirements of the project. Additional scientific personnel have been recruited and the necessary infrastructure for the construction of the Lunar Module has been created. When the expected funds failed to materialize, the company had to file for bankruptcy. For Boehme and his team, however, tight financial circumstances are not entirely new.
PTScientists was founded in 2008 in order to participate in the Google Lunar XPRIZE. Google had promised the participant who would first land on the moon a prize of 20 million dollars, as long as they reached it by March 2018 and covered at least 500 meters. However, neither PTScientists nor any other company succeeded in doing so, and the Berlin start-up continued with the help of state funding and private sponsors.
In addition to ArianeGroup and ESA, the company’s cooperation partners include the German Aerospace Center DLR, car manufacturer Audi, telecommunications company Vodafone, and the University of Würzburg. PTScientists currently employs about 60 people in Berlin, Salzburg (AT), and Houston (USA).
In 2021, the lunar module ALINA and the lunar rover are to be launched to the moon for the first time.
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