Interview: Robert Boehme, CEO and founder, PTScientists

RobertSpace Tech Expo Europe spoke to the CEO and founder of Part Time Scientists about starting up the company from scratch, their new lunar rover, ALINA, and the key trends emerging in the space industry.

When Robert Boehme initially brought together a group of engineers, scientists and software developers to form a team, he had no previous professional experience in the aerospace industry. Together with this talented and ambitious group of fellow space enthusiasts, he has moved from being a part-time scientist to a fully-fledged member of the international space community, and PTScientists is now a leading contender to land the first private mission on the Moon.


 Please tell us about your current role. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?

As CEO I get to focus on building the company up and developing our business strategy, while also keeping up to date with our technology and innovation progress. I also oversee new business partnerships, which have been key to getting us to where we are now. By partnering with non-traditional space companies such as Audi and Vodafone, we have benefited from new perspectives and combined expertise to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

 

What inspired you to join/start this company?

Like many before me, I grew up being inspired by great science-fiction writers such as Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne. But space seemed to be restricted to a few large national space agencies, not people like me. When I heard about the challenge that was set by the Google lunar XPRIZE I was intrigued and I brought some people together to discuss whether it was possible to reach the Moon. We didn’t find anything that seemed impossible, and the rest is history! We’ve come a long way since then and now our aim is to conduct the first privately funded scientific mission to the Moon and revolutionise space exploration by making it available to many more people.

Working with world-class technology and research partners from around the world, we have planned a groundbreaking mission that will return to the site of Apollo 17, carry out the first lunar plant growth experiment, and conduct a technology demonstration that we hope will be the first step towards creating a reusable communications infrastructure on the Moon – and that’s just for starters. We believe that the demand for lunar payload delivery and research opportunities will grow and grow. We are committed to helping non-spacefaring nations, universities and industrial partners gain access to the Moon and beyond!

 

What do you think sets your company apart from your competitors?

There are very few competitors in this space (no pun intended!) right now. In fact only Russia, the US and China have ever landed on the Moon, and of those, it is only China who currently has that capability. The GLXP helped to spawn a number of lunar-focused companies, but we are the only ones with the capability to deliver up to 100kg to the surface of the Moon in a single landing. Our Audi lunar quattro rovers are both capable of carrying up to 5kg of payload for experiments where readings need to be collected in a number of different locations. ALINA, our lunar lander, has an extremely versatile design, which means that it is compatible with all major commercial launch vehicles, giving our customers the widest choice of launch provider.

We also have an eye on the future, and our work with Vodafone to create an LTE base-station on the Moon is part of our vision for creating vital infrastructures in space.

 

What are the key opportunities and challenges your company faces at present?

The biggest opportunity is for us to become the first private mission on the Moon, and we believe we have a very real chance of achieving this, despite our launch schedule now precluding us from winning the GLXP. We are at the beginning of a new era of lunar exploration and on the cusp of long-duration human missions beyond low Earth orbit, and this presents us with an amazing opportunity to become a space “enabler”. We will not only increase access to space, but in doing so, hope to play a big part in enabling vital research to be carried out that will help humanity take the next steps in space exploration. In terms of challenges, well, this is space! Everyone knows that “space is hard” and we never let ourselves get complacent about the need for thorough testing, expertise and precision engineering. While we will never stop being ambitious, we are mindful to keep things within the bounds of what we are confident we can achieve. We’d rather show what our technology is capable of now, than get too carried away with visions of what comes next!

 

Are there any new technology developments that you are working on at the moment? Can you tell us about them?

Everything that we are working on is new technology, where shall I start? We’re very proud of our latest lunar rover, the Audi lunar quattro. We managed to shave 10kg off the weight of its predecessor using additive manufacturing techniques. The complete rover now weighs just 30kg, has four-wheel drive, a multispectral camera and the ability to communicate directly with Earth.

The newest addition to our mission is our technology partnership with Vodafone. Working with them we will put the first LTE base-station on the Moon, which will not only enable us to stream (data-heavy) live HD video from the rovers back to ALINA and down to Earth, but is the first element of a reusable lunar infrastructure that other missions will be able to use.

 

What would you say most excites you about your role?

Everything! I’ve got a fantastic team, we’re aiming for the Moon, we’ve got amazing partners, we’re pushing the boundaries of innovation and we’re on the leading edge of a renewed interest in lunar exploration. What more could I ask for?

 

How do you think the industry will develop within the next five years? Can you tell us about the key trends emerging?

We are still at the beginning of the commercial space boom and I think we will see increased interest in the sector, especially when people realise that space exploration is no longer restricted to large national agencies.

Although Mars has been the public focus recently, I am sensing a definite shift back towards the Moon from both national and commercial interests. ESA director Jan Woerner talks of a metaphorical “Moon Village” where many different players can come together and share skills, resources and technology in a common location. I think that we will see increased cooperation between public and private space organisations, and I look forward to PTScientists becoming a valued and reliable partner – especially in terms of building necessary infrastructures and providing end-to-end solutions for lunar transportation.

 

What do you hope to achieve at the show next year, and what connections do you hope to make?

It’s always great to be around other people in the space industry and pick up on the latest trends and innovations. We are always pleased to let people know about Mission to the Moon and the opportunities to fly with us. We still have some available slots for lunar payload, so if anyone is interested in affordable lunar research they should come and find us!


Part-Time Scientists will be exhibiting at Space Tech Expo Europe 2017 in stand F42