Moon Express has taken a step closer to its goal of mining our planet's natural satellite. Teaming up with none other than NASA, the space entrepreneur is set to launch the first commercial robotic spacecraft.

The California-based company plans to send its robotic lander, dubbed "MX-1," to the moon by next year, and has already put into test a prototype at the Kennedy Space Center.

Naveen Jain, the billionaire co-founder of Moon Express — who also founded Infospace and Intelius — said the success of the prototype test, and a series of other tests that will occur over the course of 2015, could help the company send its lander to the moon by 2016.

Moon Express conducted the tests with the aid of NASA engineers as part of a lunar initiative known as Catalyst. It was designed to encourage new commercial capabilities to reach out and tap into the resources of the moon.

"Clearly, NASA has an amazing amount of expertise when it comes to getting to the moon, and it wants to pass that knowledge on to a company like ours that has the best chance of being successful," Jain said.

Jain believes the moon's rare minerals and precious metals can be mined and brought back to Earth to effectively address our planet's health, energy and resource challenges. The moon has vast stores of riches that include the likes of cobalt, iron, gold, palladium, tungsten, platinum and helium-3, which could be used in fusion reactors to provide nuclear power, minus the radioactive waste.

Mining the moon for rare minerals is considered an exciting prospect because the supply of resources here on Earth is limited. Given the finite amount of these Earth-based minerals and metals, the cost is astronomically high. Palladium, for instance, which is used for electronics, sells for $784 per ounce.

Jain said that while the first mission of the company's lander is a one-way trip — which means that MX-1 won't be traveling back to Earth — the second and third missions could already involve bringing precious minerals, metals and moon rocks back to Earth.

"The moon has never been explored from an entrepreneurial perspective," Jain said. "Think of the moon as just another continent that is part of our ecosystem." 

Photo: Basharat Alam Shah | Flickr 

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