Google's Lunar XPRIZE Competition is set to award the first private company to launch a commercial spacecraft to the moon. In order to land the $30 million prize money, the spacecraft also needs to travel 500 meters on the moon's surface plus capture high-definition videos.
Among the initial 16 companies around the world battling for the prize, Moon Express or MoonEx was awarded over $500,000 from NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data Program. Google awarded the American company with a chunk of its Lunar XPRIZE Competition money for successfully testing its lander prototype, the Moon Express MX-1 spacecraft. Moon Express is the only contender in the competition to test a prototype so far and was given $1.25 million by Google.
This gives Moon Express an advantageous leap in the competition. Over $60 million in combined prize money is on the table for the first private-funded company to send the pioneer commercial spaceflight to Earth's companion.
Moon Express was formed by Silicon Valley and spaceflight entrepreneurs. Tech entrepreneur and Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain shared the benefits of rocket technology's advancement in 2014. This made it possible for Moon Express to build prototype landers using small rockets. They partnered with Rocket Lab, a rocket research and development firm based in California and New Zealand. Moon Express' landers will cost approximately $5 million to launch. Rocket Lab signed with Moon Express for three rocket launches.
Moon Express CEO Bob Richards announced their three launch contracts at the Space Technology & Investment Forum in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2015. The first two launches are set in 2017 when Moon Express's MX-1 lander will take off on board Rocket Lab's Electron rocket.
"Our ability to bring a sample back from the moon - we've always touted [that] as the Holy Grail of the company," said Richards.
Moon Express has initially set the lander's launch in 2016. Google pushed back the expiry date for it Lunar XPRIZE Competition. This gives Moon Express to build return vehicles from the moon and the International Space Station.