In an unprecedented move, robots may soon be competing with astronauts for space-related tasks. Gitai, a Japanese robotics startup, has secured a new funding round of ¥4 billion ($30 million) to advance its mission of creating a workforce of space robots. The Tokyo-based company aims to significantly reduce the cost of space operations and minimize the risks to human life through the development of its remote-controlled space robots, as reported by Bloomberg.

The emergence of companies like SpaceX, with their partially reusable Falcon 9 rocket, has revolutionized the space industry by substantially lowering transportation costs to orbit. Gitai’s CEO, Sho Nakanose, discussed in an interview with Bloomberg TV how the company envisions the next frontier to be a substantial reduction in the cost and risk associated with space operations through the use of robotic workforces. Nakanose explained that Gitai’s robot arms and rovers have the potential to reduce operational costs for space missions by “100 times,” making them suitable for deployment on celestial bodies such as the Moon and Mars.

“The bottleneck of the space industry has been changing rapidly,” Nakanose emphasized. “Huge space companies such as SpaceX and BlueOrigin are solving the space transportation problem, and now the bottleneck has changed from transportation costs to operational costs.”

Gitai specializes in designing robots specifically for space operations, including their inchworm robot, robotic arms, and lunar robotic rovers. The inchworm robot is equipped with grapple end-effectors at both ends, enabling it to perform various general-purpose tasks with high precision, such as spacecraft docking, payload manipulation, and inspection and repairs, as explained on the company’s website. The recent funding will be utilized to expand Gitai’s operations in the United States, recruiting engineers and further developing its space robots. These robots have the capability to assemble solar panels, weld components together, conduct inspections, and perform maintenance tasks.

Nakanose highlighted the limited scope of the Japanese space market, stating, “We decided to expand our business in the US.” With NASA seeking private sector collaboration to advance human space exploration, Gitai is one of several global startups establishing a presence in the US, enticed by lucrative contracts with the space agency.

Under NASA’s Artemis II and Artemis III missions, the agency is preparing to send astronauts back to the Moon. The Artemis program aims to establish a permanent lunar presence, serving as a stepping stone for future human expeditions to Mars. Gitai is collaborating with NASA to conduct tests of its space robots in orbit. Nakanose noted, “We have successfully conducted our first tech demo inside the International Space Station in 2021, and we are conducting the next tech demo — this time outside the ISS — within this year.”

Gitai’s impressive funding round underscores the growing significance of robotics in the space industry and signals a transformative shift toward the utilization of autonomous systems for space exploration and operations.

By Impact Lab