Moon Express Aims for Multiple Lunar Landings, Sample Return Missions By 2020

To mine the Moon, private company Moon Express plans to build a fleet of robotic landers

To mine the Moon, private company Moon Express plans to build a fleet of robotic landers

"Our Moon Express exploration architecture is created to support an American return to the surface of the moon, while collapsing the cost of lunar exploration for everyone", said Bob Richards, founder and CEO of Moon Express, in a statement.

Richards presented the spacecraft design in Washington on Wednesday. The third and most ambitious mission will involve sending a vehicle to the surface of the moon that will be capable of mining moon dust and then bringing it back to Earth.

Moon Express also revealed more detail on the crafts that have been developed to achieve these lofty goals. The MX-5 would use five MX-1 PECO engine pods to support a large lander platform that could take as much as 150 kg to the lunar surface from LEO.

Moon Express, a small Florida company vying to win the Google Lunar X Prize for the first robotic lander on the moon, today unveiled plans for a system of low-priced landers and space transports.

The lunar outpost will pave the way for the company's presence on the South Pole of the satellite. According to Moon Express, the MX-2 could travel not only to the moon but also to other locations in the inner solar system. The Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015 encourages commercial exploitation of resources in space, as long as they're not alive. This first expedition will demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of the approach, and carry several payloads to the lunar surface including the International Lunar Observatory and several scientific instruments as part of a research project called "MoonLight".

The robotic explorers in the company's fleet would include the MX-1E, which it is already working on.

And of course, there is one final thing that could thwart Moon Express's dreams of a 2017 lunar mission: the readiness of the rocket. If all goes to plan, this first commercial mission to return moon rocks to Earth will launch in 2020. The first vehicle is called the MX-1E and it is billed as a high-performance craft that is both eco-friendly and technically advanced. The test was a partial success, as the first stage operated flawlessly but the second stage failed to deliver the payload to orbit due to a premature engine shutdown. The Electron rocket, made by private spaceflight company Rocket Lab, is slated to carry Lunar Scout but has never yet reached orbit.

Despite the tight deadline, it looks like Rocket Lab is not yet finished with the MX-1E lander. The MX-1 is proposed as the initial spacecraft to embark on the first expedition.

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