Moon Express, a Florida-based start-up, is on track to become the first private firm to land a spacecraft on the moon's surface.
Moon Express was founded in 2010 to take part in Google's Lunar X competition. The internet search giant is offering a $20 million reward to the first private company to land on the moon's surface by the end of 2017.
The company's CEO, Dr. Robert D. Richards, has said that the company is on track to meet Google's deadline but is optimistic about the company's future regardless. Even if it does not win Google's bounty, the company will still have plenty of work to do as a commercial carrier for NASA and other organizations.
The MX-1E lander is Moon Express's starter craft that the company says will reach the moon by the end of the year. At 3 feet wide and about 4.5 feet tall, the craft was compared by a Moon Express spokesperson to Star Wars' R2-D2. It was originally a bit larger, but the lander was shrunk so that it could fit into a smaller rocket. This is an example of Moon Express's common core approach to spacecraft.
"Space vehicles and landers have traditionally been custom designed for each purpose," Dr. Richards told The New York Times. "What we've designed is a common core approach."
In addition to being more versatile than traditional spacecraft, the MX-1E has the added benefit of being significantly cheaper. Moon Express estimates that the cost of building and launching one of these crafts is about $10 million, whereas a traditional NASA launch could cost hundreds of millions.
Mining The Moon
This approach will allow Moon Express to modify their spacecraft for different missions. For example, their second mission will make use of a larger craft to reach the moon's south pole, which harbors ice in its craters. Obviously, the presence of ice on the moon holds several benefits for human exploration. Beyond the need for water, the hydrogen can also be used to create rocket fuel, potentially allowing spacecraft to use the moon as an interstellar gas station.
The practical benefits to mining moon ice are obvious, but there are also scientific ones. It is believed that this ice contains molecules dating back to the earliest days of our solar system, which could give scientists a better understanding of how our solar system formed and what it was like billions of years ago.
The Future Of Commercial Space Travel
Beyond Google's contest, Moon Express sees a future for itself in transporting goods for NASA and commercial entities. Other companies have also expressed an interest in space transportation. Astrobotic Technology dropped out of Google's contest due to the deadline restrictions but has its first launch planned for 2019 and has 11 clients already signed up.
Perhaps the most interesting is Jeff Bezos's Blue Rocket, which was founded out of his success with Amazon. He has expressed interest in using his company to ship supplies to human settlements on the moon. The real question is, will they be Prime eligible?
Eric Brackett Tech Times editor Eric Brackett is a tech junkie and a gamer, covering science and technology. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter for updates and his random thoughts on the latest trends in gaming, tech, and comic books.