Over there is a tidal wave of commercial space initiatives aimed at the moon, with established companies and newer upstarts all trying to transform that cold, gray rock into a thriving center for scientific and industrial activity. But that future will probably be impossible without a series of robotic helpers.
Startup in Tokyo guitar thinks autonomous robots, rather than human labor, can and should be used to make this vision a reality. The company believes robots could be used for many activities in space – from assembly to inspection to performing routine maintenance. To this end, the company has developed a robotic arm and robotic rover for space applications.
The technology has generated continued interest from investors, with the company announcing today that it has closed $30 million (4 billion yen) in a Series B extension round from Japanese funds and venture firms. These include Global Brain CVC Funds, DCI Venture Growth Fund, the Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Ltd, ANRI III Investment Limited Partnership, ANRI I-II-III Annex Investment Limited Partnership, NVC No. 1 Limited Liability Partnership, JIC Venture Growth Fund 2 Investment Limited Partnership, Electric Power Development Company and Mitsubishi UFJ Capital IX Limited Partnership.
Gitai plans to focus all new funding on building its US-based workforce and expanding its manufacturing and testing capabilities in the US. It’s a sign of how seriously the startup takes its US business.
“We are going to invest in the US,” Sho Nakanose, CEO of Gitai, said in a recent interview. Nakanose, who has just moved to the Los Angeles area, said more than half of Japan’s workforce, including engineers, also moved to the US. of this year, and 40-50 by the end of next year.
The company is building out test facilities for its robotics, including a simulated lunar environment and a vacuum chamber.
The ultimate goal is to raise the level of technology readiness — a measurement system used by NASA and other government programs to assess the maturity of a given technology — of its two core robotic products. The robotic arm has already spent time in space, when the company held a technology demonstration with it on the International Space Station in 2021. Gitai is currently preparing for a second tech demo of the robotic arm next year, which will take place outside of space. ISS, a significantly more difficult undertaking – and hopes to send the rover to the moon as early as 2026.
These are big strides for the seven-year-old startup, especially considering that the company’s initial goal wasn’t necessarily to enter the aerospace market. Nakanose explained in a recent interview that when he founded the company, the aerospace industry was the last market on his list. “I was looking for more solid, practical options,” he said.
But he quickly realized that Earth-based robots must overcome a major market challenge: human labor. “It’s so hard for robot capacity to overcome human labor, especially in terms of cost,” he explained.
The aerospace industry, on the other hand, offers unique opportunities for robotics developers. At the moment, the robotic arms attached to the ISS are expensive – the multi-stage program to develop a third-generation “Canadarm” robotic arm attached to the outside of the ISS is estimated at $1.2 billion. But astronaut labor isn’t the answer either: It’s still very expensive and dangerous to send one human into space, let alone send them to perform extravehicular activity outside the station.
Private companies developing private space stations — including Vast, Blue Origin, Voyager Space, and Axiom Space — are also likely to look for cheaper alternatives to the legacy robotics on the ISS. Gitai could fill this looming market need with its robotic arm.
“While SpaceX and Blue Origin reduce transportation costs to space by 100 times, we at Gitai are taking on the challenge of reducing labor costs by 100 times,” said Nakanose. “We will provide most of the labor for the Moon and Mars and build infrastructure such as solar panels, communication antennas, fuel generators and housing modules.”