Tough Tech Today with Meyen and Miller

A moon rover startup gears up for launch, featuring Justin Cyrus of Lunar Outpost

December 01, 2020 Jonathan Miller, Forrest Meyen, and Justin Cyrus Season 1 Episode 9
Tough Tech Today with Meyen and Miller
A moon rover startup gears up for launch, featuring Justin Cyrus of Lunar Outpost
Chapters
0:50
Starting a lunar rover company
2:27
What's in regolith and how does this help us get to Mars?
3:45
Advanced instrumentation and robotics
4:42
The hassles of regolith
6:25
Tough Tech Today exclusive: 2021 launch date set!
9:25
What are valuable payloads?
11:21
Swarm robotics
12:46
At UC Boulder with a love for space
13:24
Improving Earthlings' environments with lunar tech
20:26
Are there needs for space security services?
22:44
Instagram: @thelunaroutpost
25:17
When can we have rover races on the moon?
27:10
Working with family to build a company
29:27
What did your parents think about this?
37:01
Peeking twenty years into the future
Tough Tech Today with Meyen and Miller
A moon rover startup gears up for launch, featuring Justin Cyrus of Lunar Outpost
Dec 01, 2020 Season 1 Episode 9
Jonathan Miller, Forrest Meyen, and Justin Cyrus

In one sentence...

Living on the Moon requires infrastructure that Justin Cyrus of Lunar Outpost knows can be helpful here on Earth.

Overview

Earth’s moon is viewed as the upcoming base of operations for humanity’s further exploration of the cosmos. Justin Cyrus, founder of Lunar Outpost, shares what it is like building a suite of technologies that not only meet space objectives, but also address terrestrial challenges.


Incredible initiatives are underway to develop our moon into a pied-à-terre for humans on their way to Mars. These initiatives require concerted efforts between public organizations and the private sector to develop necessary technologies, revenue models, and other components that must work perfectly enough for our species’ spacefaring ambitions to come to fruition. 

Show Notes

Topic Timecodes 

00:50 Starting a lunar rover company

02:27 What’s in regolith and how does this help us get to Mars?

03:45 Advanced instrumentation and robotics

04:42 The hassles of regolith

06:25 Tough Tech Today exclusive: 2021 launch date set!

09:25 What are valuable payloads?

11:21 Swarm robotics

12:46 At UC Boulder with a love for space

13:24 Improving Earthlings’ environments with lunar tech

20:26 Are there needs for space security services?

22:44 Instagram: @thelunaroutpost

25:17 When can we have rover races on the moon?

27:10 Working with family to build a company

29:27 What did your parents think about this?

37:01 Peeking twenty years into the future


Tags

tough tech today,jmill,Jonathan Miller,Forrest Meyen,deep tech,hard tech,startup,entrepreneurship,venture capital,tough tech,tough technology,technology,podcast,Lunar Outpost,moon,rover,regolith,ISRU,Justin Cyrus

Transcript

https://otter.ai/u/OrI6VxsKdm8tmODNCQI6CJzwmgA

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In one sentence...

Living on the Moon requires infrastructure that Justin Cyrus of Lunar Outpost knows can be helpful here on Earth.

Overview

Earth’s moon is viewed as the upcoming base of operations for humanity’s further exploration of the cosmos. Justin Cyrus, founder of Lunar Outpost, shares what it is like building a suite of technologies that not only meet space objectives, but also address terrestrial challenges.


Incredible initiatives are underway to develop our moon into a pied-à-terre for humans on their way to Mars. These initiatives require concerted efforts between public organizations and the private sector to develop necessary technologies, revenue models, and other components that must work perfectly enough for our species’ spacefaring ambitions to come to fruition. 

Show Notes

Topic Timecodes 

00:50 Starting a lunar rover company

02:27 What’s in regolith and how does this help us get to Mars?

03:45 Advanced instrumentation and robotics

04:42 The hassles of regolith

06:25 Tough Tech Today exclusive: 2021 launch date set!

09:25 What are valuable payloads?

11:21 Swarm robotics

12:46 At UC Boulder with a love for space

13:24 Improving Earthlings’ environments with lunar tech

20:26 Are there needs for space security services?

22:44 Instagram: @thelunaroutpost

25:17 When can we have rover races on the moon?

27:10 Working with family to build a company

29:27 What did your parents think about this?

37:01 Peeking twenty years into the future


Tags

tough tech today,jmill,Jonathan Miller,Forrest Meyen,deep tech,hard tech,startup,entrepreneurship,venture capital,tough tech,tough technology,technology,podcast,Lunar Outpost,moon,rover,regolith,ISRU,Justin Cyrus

Transcript

https://otter.ai/u/OrI6VxsKdm8tmODNCQI6CJzwmgA

Justin Cyrus:

And I'm happy to make a surprise announcement during your guy's podcast today, we have lined up a 2021 launch for our two of our map rovers.

Announcer:

Welcome to Tough Tech Today with Meyen and Miller. This is the premiere show featuring trailblazers who are building technologies today to solve tomorrow's toughest challenges.

Forrest Meyen:

Welcome to tough tech today. Today I have with me Justin Cyrus, co founder of lunar outpost, a company that is building small rovers to explore the surface of the moon, as well as air quality sensors on Earth. Thanks, Justin. Welcome to the show.

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah, thanks for having me., Forrest. I'm really excited to talk with you guys today and tell you a little bit more about our small rovers.

Forrest Meyen:

Yeah, so yeah, tell us what, what what inspired you to make a lunar rover a company? That's, you know, I mean, it seems like everybody's dream, to you know, send robots to space, and you just did something to try to make it happen.

Unknown:

Yeah, I mean, so lovespace has really been a lifelong thing. I grew up around NASA Johnson Space Center. My dad worked at NASA, worked a Lockheed Martin as a vic president. So I always knew wanted to be involved in space Really, it was, it was like what point? Could I bring th most value? At what point? Coul our company actually fill a nee that is going to be there So back in 2017, we saw a tre d. And we saw this trend headin towards the moon. And we saw ome of the folks in transpor ation like Blue Origin, like SpaceX, and we knew that they co ld fill the transportation th infrastructure ne ded of actually getting s to the moon. But then the big uestion became, what do w do when we're actually there? Y u know, with landing uncertain y in the hundreds of meter , you even if you're just tryin to position a payload, you stil need mobility to get that paylo d properly positioned on the lunar surface. And then beyond t at, what we think in our outp st is the future of space i space resources. So we anted to be able to prospect or these resources, and ev ntually help extract and utili e those resources as well

Forrest Meyen:

Awesome. So what type of resources are at the moon? Isn't just a bunch of dirt

Unknown:

It's quite fascina ing, the variety of resources ou have on the lunar surface Some things people just don t recognize, are associated w th the moon, you do have things like rare earth elements, ou have things like platinum, pa ladium, which are all well and exciting. But one of the most one of the biggest driving actors of going back to the moon is that it enables our trav l to Mars after that. And th t's because of volatiles on th lunar surface, specifically, ydrogen and oxygen. And I'm sure you saw NASA's recent announ ement, that there are actu lly water molecules embedded all across the surface o the moon. You know, originally some folks just thoug t they might be in the perm nently shadowed regions at p rs. And that's all well and goo , but it's very, it's very co d, right? It's very hard to ge down there and have the, you now, robots extract down there f r a long period of time without some sort of power beamin or, you know, nuclear pow r source. But just being able to extract this water on the lunar surface, we can refuel ockets, we can support astronaut missions. And eventuall , it can help us get to Mars and beyond.

Jonathan:

So what are you working on now then for that endeavor? Like what what are your current projects?

Justin Cyrus:

So our current projects, we have two product lines, one is advanced instrumentation, and one is robotics. On the robotic side, that's more applicable to space resources that I was just talking about. But we have our 10 kilogram class prospector, which was the first commercial prospector debuted in the world, and is the first spaceflight ready rover that's ready to fly to the moon. So that's, that's one I think we're going to be most excited about today, though, fully talk in the podcast. But we do have advanced instrumentation. And that line actually spun out of that line spun out of a project we're doing with Lockheed Martin, that was looking at the regolith on the lunar surface. And how do we mitigate that and a lunar habitat, right, like the do the chemical and geometric properties. It's very problematic for humans. And it's definitely problematic for systems and habitats as well.

Forrest Meyen:

And so regolith is another term for just lunar soil best or whatever is more appropriate term than soil, right, because soil I guess insinuates organic compounds or,

Justin Cyrus:

yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's really just a really fine lunar dust. And, you know, for those who obviously don't study winter soil to give a quick background. This lunar regolith is very sharp geometrically. And then it sticks to everything because it's electrostatically charged. So if you ever look at like NASA's LRV Apollo footage, you'll see like this dust just flying up everywhere, because it's in 160. sticking to the astronauts suits. And it's pretty cool. And you're watching it, but it's really pretty problematic when you're trying to deal with it from an engineering standpoint.

Forrest Meyen:

So your sensor was trying to detect that or?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah, yeah, so since we was trying to detect that and eventually mitigate it, and winter habitats, we ended up spinning that technology off through a phase one, phase two, and phase three, with acworks, and the United States Air Force, and that really helped us reach where we are today.

Jonathan:

So then, what are your priorities going forward? Is it to continue to to develop the understanding that the the map robot on the mobile autonomous prospecting platform, is it to take that concept even further and building like a heavy lift version?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah. So we recently debuted or map 2.0 was an internal project name, but our spaceflight ready map project that we can sense the moon. And I'm happy to make a surprise announcement during your guys's podcast today, we have lined up a 21 launch for our two of our map rovers. They are smaller than our 10 kilogram class version. And 2022 launch for a 10 kilogram class rover is in the works today.

Forrest Meyen:

Wow. Congrats. That's awesome. That's really

Jonathan:

exciting then. So then, with 2021, scheduled launch and another in 2022. Will that be like a almost like a stress test of your, your robot tech?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the 2021. It's, as you said, a stress test. It's a tech demonstration to show that not only can we survive on the lunar surface, we can operate and accomplish the mission at hand.

Jonathan:

Why is it that I would always imagine that NASA is the organization to be building these robots in house, maybe with some contractor help here and there, but that its ultimate, ultimately going to be that the United States sort of space agency to do this kind of work? Why? What happened to make it so that a, a private company, and a fairly small one at that, to be able to really make this kind of new new type of technology?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, a lot of it is enabled by the infrastructure that's being put in place. This trend started with launch vehicles, right, you still have NASA building their SLS, which is the biggest, largest rocket in history. But you do have folks like Blue Origin, SpaceX, that are building their own launch vehicles. And really, you know, that trend that those folks started that show that a commercial company can do these projects, regardless of how big or small has created an explosion, for lack of a better term. In the space industry, have commercial companies now stepping into stepping into roles that traditionally were filled by NASA. So that being said, you still have world class scientist at NASA JPL at NASA Ames, that are working on very advanced robotics. And there is this, you know, really cool robot that can split in half that just came out of NASA JPL. And they'll lower it down into a permanently shattered region, reel it back up. And it was a cool way to explore like lava tubes or permanently shadowed regions. But at the end of the day, as a commercial company, our focus is payload. How do we maximize the amount of mobility services we provide on the moon? So we can stay viable as a commercial company, and fund the really cool science and the really cool technology that we're trying to build? What sort of payloads

Forrest Meyen:

air, can you can you share what sort of payloads you're going to be carrying to the surface of the moon?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah. So in 2021, it is a very small payload, we're looking at micro reflectors. And that's just kind of a proof of concept. Again, no technology demonstrator for these rovers, and making sure the technology does what we needed to do.

Forrest Meyen:

And the other what is a micro reflector, like, why don't you want that on the man?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah, so that's based on some concepts to study potential laser communications, to study potential dust up kick, and basically you just shoot a laser out it from Earth. See what kind of

Forrest Meyen:

reflected light you get off the micro reflector. How big do they have to be to actually hit with a laser from

Justin Cyrus:

you'd be surprised

Forrest Meyen:

gotta be really good at pointing Laser

Justin Cyrus:

got really good at pointing the lasers no doubt. Luckily, we don't build that part. We just build the rover that carries a micro reflector and tell him where it is. But that is kind of one of the exciting things about a rover. We do have precision tracking, and precision localization in GPS denied environments on the lunar surface. Awesome.

Forrest Meyen:

What about your What about your next next two payloads? Yeah, that you spilled the beans that you're going to the men.

Justin Cyrus:

So in 2022, that is a much more. Granted, we're still in negotiations with some of the 2022 payloads. Okay, so we'll see how it goes. But that one's a much more space resource focused mission. Okay, right. So we have micro drill that potentially we'd like to bring along, and a sample collector we'd like to bring along as well. And it once we get those cuttings from the micro drill, or get the samples, then we can hit those with a mass spectrometer, multispectral imagers to figure out what's in this lunar soil. And hopefully what the water content

Jonathan:

is, will you be working on, say, a swarm constellation constellation, but like a swarm of more than one of these robots? And if not, in the shorter term? When do you think that that would be something that may be feasible? And what kind of use cases would they even help with?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah, swarm robotics is actually one of our main goals at lunar outpost. And that's an excellent question, right? The big part of why we think swarm of smaller rovers, you know, the 10 kilogram class, and maybe maybe some of these two kilogram class rovers will be utilized for a lot of these missions. Not only does it enable redundancy, it allows you to cover a much larger area, more cost effectively, right? If I need to prospect the entirety of the moon, to figure out where is the best place to actually go extract resources, it doesn't make sense to send, you know, 400 Viper rovers, that cost a couple hundred million dollars each to the moon, you send these swarms of map rovers out to scout the area to do your initial prospecting. And then you could send your 300 kilogram class rovers that cost a couple hundred million dollars. And that's a much more cost effective way to get the data you need to make space resources sustainable.

Forrest Meyen:

So can you can you talk to us as I don't know if we had talked about this yet, like on the podcast itself, but like, tell me about your you know, your path, your you know, your educational path? And then your path to like forming the company? Yeah. You know, what was that like?

Justin Cyrus:

So, started off at University of Colorado Boulder, electrical engineering program there. And as I said, Before, I always knew I wanted to be involved with space, which is kind of what drove me to Colorado, great aerospace industry out here. And at Colorado, I was trying to figure out, hey, where do I want to go? With his degree? I'm spending this time so forgetting. And a big, I would say a big leap forward during my undergrad, my undergraduate education was a lot of the stuff going on in the space industry at the time. Right. So um, I was coming out of a period where constellation had just been cancelled. folks were looking at, hey, how do we sustainably get from moon to Mars? And what kind of the answer I landed on at least I'm not going to say this answer for everybody was robotics is where we think, you know, we should focus to help enable a sustainable presence. So started focusing on robotics. So I was working for Lockheed Martin at the time. And at Lockheed Martin, I was on the military satellite side of things. So completely different from what we're doing here at lunar outpost. And, you know, when I was going into my master's, the same question arose, I started honing in, I would say, like, my educational experience, started taking some robotics classes, some communication classes. So that's what I ended up specializing in RF communications and robotics. And I, you know, honed in on my master's project, which was swarms, enabled by SDRs. swarm communications enabled by software defined radios, that allowed me to not only talk to the other robots at great distances, but also talk to like command center at higher bandwidth.

Forrest Meyen:

Okay, so the robots like create their own local network. Yep. And then they can distribute how they send data back to the command center to to increase the bandwidth that way. Yeah, absolutely. One robot would send half the message the robot would send the other half.

Justin Cyrus:

Yes. And then they could also act as like relays for each other.

Unknown:

No. Okay.

Justin Cyrus:

So like if one robot was like, 20 kilometers away, and robots 10 kilometers away. If I need to get higher bandwidth, then I could just stream those between the robots

Forrest Meyen:

and is that a technology that incorporating into your, your map line of products.

Justin Cyrus:

We haven't incorporated that yet. But it certainly is something we're looking at in the future.

Forrest Meyen:

Awesome. Walk us

Jonathan:

through then the connection with the back down to earth and terrestrial for us. Most of us are sort of very much ground focused Earthlings. And we we know that going to the moon and doing research there is important for the intellectual development of humanity and understanding the cosmos. But your technology may have applications here on Earth.

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah. So certainly the advanced instrumentation. Like I said, we started off with a project with Lockheed Martin, looking at this regolith and the gateway, NASA's gateway they're trying to put up, that's on display at Kennedy Space Center, what we immediately did is look for a way to commercialize this to create some revenue off of it. And luckily enough for us, right in our backyard city and county of Denver, was looking at air quality at elementary schools. So they ended up applying to Bloomberg Philanthropies, national mayor's challenge. And that was all these cities around the nation, trying to figure out ways to make the lives of their citizens better. So we partnered with city and county of Denver, they actually utilized our technology to win a million dollar prize, they match that with another million dollars. And with that money, they deployed our centers around the county at all these local elementary schools, and helped inform folks of ways to better improve their kids health, which we're really excited about. That wasn't a huge moneymaker for us by any means. But it was a great way to have an immediate positive impact on our local community. And we took that success. And then now we have these Canary air quality and environments monitors in 15 states to us by four government agencies. And you know, that line is rapidly expanding.

Jonathan:

Well, are they are these the the Canaries are? That's a great name for it. And so are those typically deployed in in like remote settings, like out in the forest or in a farm field with some sort of cellular or other form of communication? back?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah. So we do have a couple lines and our Canary product line are a couple of products in our Canary product line. One of them is solar powered with a cellular backhaul. So you can put it anywhere, actually, currently, the United States Forest Service is using it to battle wildfires out in California, in Colorado, so detecting not only the particulate matter that's coming off these wildfires, but also the carbon monoxide. That is, you know, very bad for people's health, especially the firefighters that are trying to, you know, put put these fires out and keep people on home safe.

Forrest Meyen:

So how long do you think that you're going to be having these, you know, two different types of product lines? You have the air sensors and the rovers? Are these going to kind of grow together for a long time? Are you going to spend one out once you're sustainable on rovers? Like what's your? What's your plan? Because it seems like they're two very different types of, you know, products?

Justin Cyrus:

That's an excellent question. And I really did hit the nail right on that, right. As a startup, usually, the advice you get is focus on one technology, one product, do your best there go capture the market. And I certainly agree with that advice. The canaries to this point, have allowed us to develop map. So look at our nearest competitor, Astrobotic and rovers. And we actually think we're ahead on Astrobotic and rovers, but they've done $300 million, and NASA contracts in six months. We've done $125,000 in NASA contracts in the last six months. So they have a massive advantage of government funding. And the way we've been able to fill that gap is with commercial revenue. So you know, without that commercial revenue, our rover line wouldn't be as far along as it is. But to answer your question. Absolutely. We do see them splitting apart once the rover line becomes sustainable. And it's quickly approaching that area. Right. So we would split off the canary line into its own business and focus on advanced instrumentation for Earth and Space, because we still think it has massive applications on the lunar surface and lunar orbit. And hopefully Mars eventually a forest I know you've worked on some really cool project going to Mars right now but

Forrest Meyen:

hundred 130 but million miles I don't know. man made a million miles away from Earth right now.

Jonathan:

Yeah. With your robotic robots that are fitting a sweet spot of being small and lower cost. I won't say low cost but lower cost at least by many orders of magnitude. From the large like 300 kilogram plus robots, that sounds like it could make them more waves. Let me start that over again, with you, with your robots that are will soon be tested in space on the moon, do you feel that there is there a chance that then your lunar outpost, your company may be positioned to be able to provide what we might say, say lunar security services for the United States or other groups, as, as it seems like the US is pulled out over threatening to pull out of like the open skies treaty and some of the other sort of less science influenced research and missions that are going to the moon.

Justin Cyrus:

That's certainly an interesting thought. What I will say is, we do have the instrumentation on board to provide continuous monitoring of the lunar surface and lunar orbit. Now, it will be interesting how this international, you know, dynamic in space plays out, because you do have some folks that, internationally, I think have signed on to the Artemis accords, have expressed interest in working with the United States, which is really exciting. But then you do have other folks that are making their own teams, and a very adversarial path. And, again, at the end of the day, what we want out lunar outpost, is space to be able to be used in a peaceful, sustainable manner. That being said, I think it is important for the United States government to ensure that that peace is maintained in space. If you do have bad actors going out there and interfering with missions on the moon or missions to Mars, it's no longer sustainable, right, it becomes a lot harder for myself and companies like ours, and even the big companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, to close a business plan, if you don't know if your spacecraft is gonna get to where it needs to go, because someone's gonna interfere with either your rover, your lander, or your launch vehicle. So ensuring the safety of these missions and ensuring like, you know, I've heard some folks make the comparison of it sees the high seas, right? And ensuring open and free shipping channels, I think is going to be a very important aspect of the next decade in space. As

Jonathan:

a non sequitur, it is makes me feel good to see a space focused startup that has an Instagram account. What's the story behind having having an account?

Justin Cyrus:

I mean, that's a completely valid question. I will readily admit, we haven't put quite as much time and effort into marketing as we need to. But you know, really, our Instagram account is just a cool way for us to show what we're doing to you know, folks that have always wanted to go to the moon folks that have always wanted to operate robotic systems on the moon. And it's just a way to interact with the general audience. I mean, as you said, as it sits, most Americans can't just go out and buy their own lunar rover. But where we want to get to eventually is Americans will be able to send personalized items, or be able to run their own robotic missions, whether it's, you know, large companies, I don't want to name drop the large companies that want to do branding and marketing on the moon. And sending some of these items space, like space is cool. NASA out of all the government agencies. And there's a reason for this has the largest Instagram following the largest Twitter follower and the largest Facebook following. And it's because space is cool. And so at the end of the day, we do want to enable the branding and marketing from, you know, some of these other companies, but eventually where we want to get to. And there's a lot of like minded entrepreneurs, some who are far ahead of us in this goal is making the, you know, making space accessible to the average American. And where we think we can contribute to that is by offering the average American to drive a rover on the moon for the first time,

Forrest Meyen:

that would be amazing. And are you also selling sponsorship deals to get your logo on the rover? I know some people have thought about doing stuff like that,

Justin Cyrus:

you know, one of our competitors has been extremely effective at this and that's Eyespace and there's this whole national pride around Eyespace and the rovers they created the landers and they have a ton of corporate sponsors. It's not a path lunar outpost has gone down yet, but what I would say is we are open to that with the right partner right? We're not just gonna put some brand on me.

Forrest Meyen:

So how much for a tough tech today sticker. I don't think we can afford it.

Unknown:

We can give you guys

Forrest Meyen:

a discount all right level I'll take it. So, Wow, that's so, you know, you talk about, you know, just this, this really cool long term future of giving the, you know, people the experience to like drive, you know, rover, like, what I mean? Obviously, this is in the future, but like, what do you envision that being like, are people gonna have like rover races on the moon? Or, you know, are they actually just gonna have a place that interest them? And, you know, just try to check it out? Like, what do you think that's gonna look like?

Justin Cyrus:

I mean, you hit on a couple of really great ideas there. And honestly, a lot of it's a novelty, right? I can go explore a part of the moon that no robot, no man, no one's ever been before. And even our orbital data, you know, some of the orbital data is a little bit more precise than others. But a lot of it's still at like the one kilometer range. No one's ever been in a lava tube. No one's ever been in a permanently shattered region. No one's ever been to the magnetic swirls right at the equatorial regions. So being able to explore and contribute to the scientific discovery that will make space sustainable, I think is appealing to a lot of folks like, you know, yourself, Jonathan.

Forrest Meyen:

Yeah, I think we're a typical people. Right,

Justin Cyrus:

but even you know, even a lot of my friends when I was growing up, granted, I grew up in Houston. So there was that kind of space thing, that space component already a part of my life. A lot of my friends who parents who didn't work at NASA and didn't work at Lockheed, they're like, Oh, yeah, I want to be an astronaut one day, right. And a big part of that's the exploration component and the novelty of it, we can do something that no humans ever done before. And offering the chance for people to drive rovers on the moon and go explore new parts and prospect for resources, I think appeals to a wide audience.

Jonathan:

So I want I would like to look, understand more on the personal side of things where with you, and in a nice way, it looks like the apple didn't fall so far from the tree and that you had the Kindle, the attraction to space from some of your family was had involvement in various parts of aerospace. And then that kindled the spirit within you. Now, I'm picturing that in the early days of lunar outpost, a garage with three brothers hacking away at robots? What's it's what has it been like to work with family to grow winter outposts into what it is today?

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah, I mean, working with family comes with its own set of pros. And it comes with its own set of cons. You know, there are some investors and you know, you see Ilan and Kimball Musk, they work together, and the early days of PayPal, or the company that eventually became PayPal, and they did so successfully. And after they accomplish their goal, they made a lot of money admittingly. But they each went their own separate path after they accomplish a shared goal. And with myself, and my brothers, Julian and Austin, they already had that natural draw to space, that's something that's already fascinated them, it was just a matter of convincing them to come work with me for less money for a little while to accomplish, you know, this kind of new novel thing. But with family, as I said, it does come with its own set of challenges. So what I would say if you're out there, and you want to start a business, and your brothers in a similar field, or your sisters in a similar field, you know, make sure that you can separate kind of the personal relationship from family and the business relationship. And that's going to be extremely important. So what I will say, It's nice having folks that you can trust 100% of the time, you know, they're on your side, you know, they're pulling for the same thing. But it is balance. You know, making sure that you and your siblings, are you and your father, you know, of course, he gave us some advice when we were starting up a balance the work and the personal relationships differently.

Forrest Meyen:

So what what did your parents think like, oh, kids are going off fitting? They're gonna make moon robots.

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah. So luckily, they're pretty supportive. Granted, don't get me wrong. My parents were like, Hey, why don't you go get a nice, nice, good paying job? Well, first and then, you know, do this. Luckily, I had the experience from Lockheed, I had experience at sunlight aerospace before I started this, but they're like, yeah, maybe just a few more years, and you can go to this. But, you know, with my dad being an entrepreneur himself after he left Lockheed Martin, he was a VP over there. He did start his own company. He was able to say, Okay, if you want to do this, I understand and then provide advice along the way. You know, and my mom and her own right was very successful. As Parks and Rec manager down in the city of Lake City city, apparently and down in Texas, and so she always kind of had that entrepreneurial kick as well. Sure. So, as I said, they're like, Well, you know, this isn't the safest route. But it's if you want to do it, go ahead and do it. Just keep your head on a swivel.

Forrest Meyen:

And you've had fun. So far,

Justin Cyrus:

I've had a blast.

Forrest Meyen:

I mean, obviously, there's those tough times, right? Is there any time where you thought you guys were just done?

Justin Cyrus:

Absolutely. In a startup environment, when a worldwide pandemic comes along, and threatens some of your largest commercial revenue streams, as I said, we're actually mostly commercial revenue. A very small amount of our funding has come from the government, which of course, we're trying to change, right? Yeah, we'd love it. If NASA says, Hey, you guys are doing a great job on these rovers. We want to enable competition and the rover sector, just like we have with lunar landers, and I think they will, I think they're going down that path will take the government contract. But with the commercial revenue, you know, a worldwide pandemic economic shutdowns. That's not necessarily the easiest thing to deal with. As a startup, when as a startup, you do rely on rapid innovation and sometimes rapid commercialization. So in this instance, we've had to be a lot more patient. And there were times even when we were first getting started off in 2017, you're running on, you know, 510 thousand dollar budgets, right, you're like, Oh, I have to save a couple hundred bucks here, a couple hundred bucks there just to make sure we get through it. But once you get through those tougher times, and you're able to kind of streamline your business, make sure everything's efficient, then when the good times come, now you're a lot more profitable as a company, how do you

Jonathan:

find and maintain sort of knowledge and situational awareness of, of your field or fields, that's something that I find with plenty of, let's say, either first time or, or relatively novice entrepreneurs is that they may bring in sort of one pipe of knowledge, but to really build the company and extend their their technological advantage, that they need to get smart about a variety of different topics that and some of which are probably not that intellectually stimulating, but they still need to, to know how to do it. What as it has worked for you and maybe what hasn't worked for, for getting smarter in the space.

Justin Cyrus:

Yeah. And I'll talk a little bit about myself and my co founders, because this certainly isn't just me, and the effort. Luckily, I'm surrounded by a lot of folks that have their own specialties that have their own experiences that have contributed a lot to the company. But for me, I was fortunate enough to be certified in project management. You know, during my time at Lockheed Martin, I was got to the point where I was going to be a low level project manager, I gotten all the kind of studies done all my certifications ready to step into that role. And then on top of that, I had quite a bit of, I would say, really good advice from Dr. George showers Dr. On Hello, boob Madrid, and Dr. Chris dryer, here at Colorado School of Mines, each with their own backgrounds and histories. Now, each of those professors had seen space startups come and go. And they, you know, when I first went to them back in 2017, all bright eyed and bushy tailed I was like, Alright, yeah, let's go mine on the moon, right? You know, this is this is what we're gonna do. And immediately they were like, hey, that's really good. But you have to have revenue to get there. This was at the time, I think Planetary Resources in deep space were still viable. But to their credit, they said, hey, these companies might be in trouble in a couple years, because they might not have the sustainable revenue that they need to get to their end goal. And they had raised a lot of money at that point. So I took that advice seriously, I took the advice that, you know, the rest of our advisors, we have a great board of advisors had given me and luckily that, you know, helped me build the knowledge quickly. Now for Julian and AJ, my two co founders, AJ came from eight years at last. And he had worked on eight spaceflight technologies prior to coming on board lunar outpost, so he knew what it took to get some of these smaller instrumentation and robotic vehicles up into space and performing properly. Julian, as I said, he had a bit of the opposite experience, right? He worked on a Ryan the mission of Mars. And so he had, hey, if we're going to sustainably do this, and if we're going to do it in a way that allows for these green missions to Mars and beyond to be sustainable, we have to be able to balance what our budget is. We have to be able to balance what we're trying to accomplish in the meantime, because we're not trying to compete with the Lockheed Martin's the Sierra Nevada is balls of the world, right? We're trying to find our niche, expand on that niche, and then eventually play a very pivotal role in enabling the new space economy. So that being said, Great advisors, great team members, and having a good background in project management and systems engineering really helped us succeed.

Forrest Meyen:

So a big challenge, I guess, for, you know, space companies for raising venture capital, at least a lot of them is how long it takes to actually, you know, get profitable. Have you found that it's, it's been more challenging to raise money just due to the nature of your business? Or have you found partners that are interested in more of a long term play?

Justin Cyrus:

I mean, absolutely. We were lucky enough to find an angel investor back in 2017. And that's the only raise we've had to do to this point.

Forrest Meyen:

Oh, wow. So you've been sustainable.

Justin Cyrus:

Since then, we've been sustainable since then, we did a small raise and 2017. We were profitable in 2019, at the beginning of 2019. And we've been profitable since granted, again, 2020, as any business, it has slowed down our revenues a bit, but we have remained profitable. All that being said, we are still looking for the right VC partners, we are still looking for the right growth partners to help our company gets to the next level, and the space investors are coming along. And you know, there's more and more of them each month each year. But it certainly is a much more niche field. And I find the space investors that are here, are just bombarded because there's so few of them, with Project pitches with people trying to grab your ear. So it is harder to get their attention than I would say in other fields.

Forrest Meyen:

Sure. Well, hopefully this famous podcast can help you get some attention, when I'm curious about is like, you know, where do you see the company in? You know, because I imagine it's a long play, right? You're not? It's not going to like flip it overnight. But then 20 years, like, what do you what do you see?

Justin Cyrus:

That's an excellent question. And it's largely dependent on where the space economy goes, right? It's, it's so new, it's rapidly growing rapidly expanding. And even you have folks like us like Astrobotic and ourselves that are competitors. But it's more competition, you know, I'm rooting for them to succeed, I want them to land on the moon, I want them to be successful. So it shows investors, it shows the government that this is, you know, positive in a sustainable way. And then you have partners of ours, like intuitive machines mass and Lockheed Martin, that they're focusing on the landers, we're focusing on the rovers, and there's just kind of that natural fit. And I'm really doing a very roundabout way to get to in 20 years, I think all these companies that are participating in going to the moon, and right now there is a lot of overlapping technology and a lot of overlapping efforts, I think they will all find their niche. And I think it will be a much more robust ecosystem. Not only because that's how we need to do it to make it sustainable. But just because you know, each person is different, each company is different. They all have their own expertise. You know, that said, I hope we're on Mars in 20 years. I hope the moon is kind of your refueling point and your, you know, long term science exploration point. And I do hope we've made it to Mars enabled by being on the moon.

Jonathan:

Looking at the path and two decades into the future, how do you prioritize what to do in the figurative sense tomorrow, that you could build a new chassis design for a robot. Or you could go into the swarm communications and go down deep in terms of how RF works and how you can do command and control that way. Or some of the terrestrial work where it's like atmospheric sensors. How do you as as Justin and as the leader of lunar outposts, how do you go through this decision making process of what to prioritize? Really, it's

Justin Cyrus:

dependent on the industry environment and the business environment at the time. If you do need to go get revenue as a startup, you don't just have millions of dollars laying around to kind of pad you and hold you over, you have to go get revenue. So at that point, we prioritize the projects that make us money that are profitable. And on the other side, if there is a little bit of extra money laying around, folks in the industry are comfortable. And there is like a, you know, good support, whether it's from VCs from the government, or from other folks in the industry, then you could focus on your long term goals. So what I would say is, when things are ln, focus on what makes you profit, when things are a little bit more fast A little bit more good. You still have to focus on what makes you profit. Don't get me wrong, but then you can start doing some of those more advanced r&d projects that will get you towards a future product, which will then in turn, fuel your business and help you be sustainable.

Forrest Meyen:

Well, we're about at time now. So I wanted to thank you very much for joining us on the show and give you one last moment to kind of reach out to our audience, give a pitch if there's anything you want to pitch to the audience. And give them any last piece of advice you'd like to share.

Justin Cyrus:

So thanks for us. Thanks, Jonathan for having me on. This was really fun to be a part of. And I'm excited to see a debut. And with lunar outpost, you know, kind of my last minute pitch, we're ready to be your lunar mobility provider on the lunar surface. And we're excited to hopefully help enable a sustainable presence and cislunar space and get the average American. Hopefully to the point they can drive a rover on the moon. I'll add that

Jonathan:

that Lunar Outpost is hiring. So if you are come from a background in engineering and feel like you could really make a want to make a dent in the universe, lunar outpost could be a great home for you.

Justin Cyrus:

I'm Justin Cyrus of Lunar Outpost. Stay tough!

Forrest Meyen:

Thanks for joining us on this episode of Tough Tech Today. If you enjoyed the show, please give us a like, share the show. We're on all podcast apps and YouTube. Of course, subscribe to get notifications of our next episode. In two weeks, we'll be sitting down with serial entrepreneur Sujal Patel. He founded Isilon systems, which was acquired by Dell Technologies for $2.25 billion, but now he's at it again, he's the co-founder of Nautilus Biotechnology, which is a company that is unlocking the potential of the human proteome.

Starting a lunar rover company
What's in regolith and how does this help us get to Mars?
Advanced instrumentation and robotics
The hassles of regolith
Tough Tech Today exclusive: 2021 launch date set!
What are valuable payloads?
Swarm robotics
At UC Boulder with a love for space
Improving Earthlings' environments with lunar tech
Are there needs for space security services?
Instagram: @thelunaroutpost
When can we have rover races on the moon?
Working with family to build a company
What did your parents think about this?
Peeking twenty years into the future