A Florida-based private company seeks to employ robotic spacecraft in its planned series of commercial missions to the moon.
The plan: regularly deliver payloads on the lunar surface and even on other places in space.
Maiden Mission Before 2017 Ends
Founded in 2010, Moon Express of Cape Canaveral is participating in the $20-million Google Lunar X prize, which will go to the first private initiative to get to the moon using a robotic lander by end of the year.
While they are on track to launch before deadline, chief executive Robert D. Richards envisions a bright future for the venture even without winning the prize.
Moon Express is developing a fleet of affordable robotic vehicles that can be assembled like a Lego to cater to a wealth of missions, according to Richards. It has already raised at least $45 million from private investors to build the first lander and meet launch requirements.
The initial lander, the MX-1E, is planned to fly onboard a Rocket Lab Electron booster before the year ends.
Based on the design released by the firm, its previously doughnut-shaped look has become taller and thinner, resembling a soft drink can with landing legs. The intention is to fit it into the smaller rocket — deemed by Richards as Moon Express’s “entry-level vehicle.”
Future Moon Mining Missions
Moon Express’s three missions consist of:
1. Lunar Scout – Will hop around the lunar surface and deploy a tiny telescope and a laser range finder.
2. Lunar Outpost – Will scour the lunar South Pole where ice is found inside craters. Ice is a precious resource for human settlements in space in the future, serving as drinking water and holds clues to molecules from the early days of the solar system. It will also prospect water and minerals for mining in the future.
3. Harvest Moon – Will land on the moon, collect rocks and soil samples, and bring them back to Earth. It is poised to “benefit science as well as commercial purposes.”
Richards hopes that Moon Express would launch at least twice annually in the future, and cited that they would pay for the first mission while customers would fund the subsequent ones.
The Google Lunar X Prize focused on initiating commercial initiatives, with its deadline twice extended. Google is also offering bonus funds for other endeavors, such as traveling 3.1 miles, and touching down near an Apollo landing site or discovering proof of water.