The sky is no longer the limit for GLW Technologies, a startup building a drone to traverse lunar impact craters and hardened lava flows on the surface of the moon.
GLW Technologies recently submitted a proposal for a lunar drone to NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, and although much of that project is under wraps, the Janesville-based startup’s founder Nicholas Shepherd did share a few details.
“With our drone systems, we can move experiments around or deploy rovers in those areas,” Shepherd said of the moon’s variable surface. “We see this as being a game changer in how we explore the lunar surface moving forward.”
The moon’s atmosphere is much different than Earth’s, so GLW’s drone relies on cold gas thrusters to “fly.” Beyond that, drone technologies used on Earth can be adapted to a space environment with relative ease, Shepherd said.
This wouldn’t be the startup’s first lunar endeavor either. GLW partnered with Colorado-based startup Lunar Outpost to design wheel suspension components for a lunar rover. If all goes as planned, Lunar Outpost’s rover could land on the moon under contract with NASA to collect soil samples in 2023.
While GLW’s lunar projects are intriguing, its accomplishments on Earth are just as remarkable. The startup’s flagship product, “Persephone,” is the first fully modular commercial-grade drone that is 3D printed, Shepherd said.
The fully modular drone can fly in swarms of up to 100 and has the ability to equip a variety of components depending on its mission. For example, a drone could be equipped with a hyperspectral sensor that could provide a farmer an analysis of crop health. That same drone could then be equipped with a spot sprayer to individually treat unhealthy plants, Shepherd said.
Other components enable Persephone to make 30-kilometer medical supply deliveries during a natural disaster, or for the military, Shepherd added.
In fact, Shepherd put his technologies to the test at Camp Roberts in California in May to see if he could 3D print a drone and deliver medical supplies in a 24-hour period.
“That’s unheard of anywhere in our industry,” Shepherd said. “It’s another way we’re showing how transformative 3D printing and additive manufacturing can be.”