Moon Express aims to be the first company in history to complete a commercial moon landing, by achieving this objective in 2017.
The California-based space company has partnered up with Rocket Lab for 5 robotic launches, and the first two have already been scheduled for 2017.
The third lift-off has also been given the green light, while the other two are currently optional, giving some leverage in case the initial flights run up against difficulties.
The $30 million deal was announced by Moon Express CEO and co-founder Bob Richards, on October 1, at the Space Technology & Investment Summit in San Francisco.
Moon Express aims to operate commercial flights to the moon, in an effort to advance space travel and “expand the economic sphere of humanity outward”. In the first mission, the MX-1 lander will be launched into space on Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket.
The goal is to ensure full functionality of the spacecraft and to achieve the first successful private moon landing in history. In addition, MX-1 is expected to move across the lunar surface, collect samples and then safely return back to Earth.
“The holy grail of our company is to provide, to prove, a full-services capability – not just landing, but coming back from the moon”, declared Richards.
These first landings will involve relatively small rovers, given that the Electron rockets are just 52.5 foot tall and 3.9 foot wide.
However, it is hoped that progressively, as the endeavors prove successful, the landers will be re-scaled to suit the company’s long-term objective of unlocking the moon’s resources.
This new partnership brings Moon Express much closer to being awarded the Google Lunar X Prize. The international challenge promises the whopping sum of $20 million for being the first to soft-land a privately-funded probe on the moon by the end of 2017.
In order to win the award, the robotic lander must also move 1,640 feet and broadcast high definition images and video back to Earth.
The second team to complete this feat of engineering will also be awarded $5 million, and there are also bonus prizes for other technical and scientific milestones.
16 teams are currently vying for the Google Lunar X Prize, and it appears the competition is stiff. Moon Express seems to be a real contender in the moon race, since it became the only team to successfully test a lander prototype.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic has also won 3 milestone prizes and has been making significant progress. Based on a deal signed in 2011, it will be launching its rover aboard a Space Falcon 9 rocket in 2016.
According to estimations, the liftoffs will cost approximately $60 million each, a staggering sum especially considering that the launches selected by Moon Express will amount to just $4.9 million.
Image Source: Google Lunar X Prize