Moon Express has big plans to become the first private company to put a spacecraft on the lunar surface and to set up a robotic outpost station within the next three years.
On Wednesday, the Cape Canaveral-based startup announced their grand plans to establish a Moon outpost for mining, research, and as a port for further exploration into the Solar System.
The team want to start this mission with the MX-1 Scout Class Explorer, the "lowest cost planetary spacecraft ever", which is currenly in development. Most remarkable of all, they want to get this little guy to the Moon by 2020.
After this scout lands on the lunar surface, it will be joined by a host of increasingly larger space vehicles – the MX-2, the MX-5, and the MX-9 – that are capable of “clipping” together. Eventually, they will use the fully-assembled robotic lander to become the first commercial venture to successfully return a sample of moon dust.
The company started in 2010 as an entry into the Google Lunar X Prize, a “race” for the first private company to get to the moon with a robotic lander, travel 500 meters (1,640 feet), and send back some high-definition videos to Earth. The teams have to launch by the end of 2017. So far, five private companies – SpaceIL, Moon Express, Synergy Moon, TeamIndus, and HAKUTO – have each secured a contract to launch their spacecraft in the hopes of winning the $20 million prize.
In the eyes of Moon Express, the Moon is “Earth’s 8th Continent” that’s ripe for the picking. Central to this vision is mining, since lunar surface rocks and soils are rich in useful but heavy (and thus expensive to launch from Earth) raw materials such as magnesium, aluminum, silicon, iron, and titanium. Much of these untouched reserves are also relatively accessible as they’re near the surface.
Through the commercialization of space, Moon Express believe they hold the key to also making space accessible to all.
"That's where my heart is – solar system exploration on a grand scale that democratizes and completely accelerates our evolution into the solar system through knowledge and discovery, not just a few expensive voyages sponsored by kings and governments, like in history," Bob Richards, Moon Express CEO and co-founder, told Space.com. "We need to get everybody going."