The commercial space company Moon Express, which specializes in lunar exploration and transportation, recently closed a deal with New Zealand-based Rocket Lab to launch five robotic missions to the moon starting in 2017.
The company announced that three flights are already being worked on, while the other two are optional. The first liftoffs are slated for 2017. Rocket Rab agreed to carry Moon Express’ MX-1 robotic lander abroad one of its Electron rockets and safely placed it on the moon’s surface.
MX-1 will be tested whether it can withstand a journey to the moon and back and whether it can safely land on the lunar soil, collect samples, and bring them home undamaged.
California-based Moon Ex’s CEO Bob Richards, who unveiled the deal with Rocket lab Thursday, explained that the ‘holy grail’ of his company was not just lunar landing but also bringing the lander safely back home.
Richards said that if the lander is able to get on the moon in one piece the company would initiate a sample-return mission. The second lander is not expected to return to Earth, but the third robotic lander is, if all goes well.
The other two landers will be used just as backup plans in case the first three missions fail to reach their goals. Moon Express is now a candidate for the Google’s Lunar X Prize, a $30 million prize aimed at helping a private company to land a privately-owned craft on the moon by the end of 2017.
The first company to land the craft, make it move 1,640 feet, and transmit to Earth high resolution photos and videos will be awarded $20 million. The second company that does this gets $5 million, while a third company will receive $5 million more if it achieves the feat under special conditions.
So far, 16 teams compete for Google’s Lunar X Prize, so the race is tight and Moon Express is running out of time. Astrobotic already partnered with Space X to get its lander on the moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The company said that the rocket would be ready for liftoff next year.
But Moon Express has something else in store. While a liftoff from Space X costs about $60 million, an Electron rocket launch costs only $4.9 million.
“We think the collapse of the price to get to the moon is going to enable a whole new market — kind of like the 4-minute-mile of space,”
CEO Richards added.
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