Lunar Express making strides to win Google Inc Lunar Xprize
A recent start-up, known as the Moon Express, plans to commence mining activities on the moon. They plan to dig out precious materials to help life here on earth. According to the mission statement on their website –“WE ARE BLAZING A TRAIL TO THE MOON TO UNLOCK ITS MYSTERIES AND RESOURCES FOR THE BENEFIT OF LIFE ON EARTH AND OUR FUTURE IN SPACE.”
On Thursday, they got one step closer to their goal, when they signed a deal with a Rocket laboratory based in Los-Angeles, to launch three lunar robots, starting 2020. It’s not just precious metals like, gold and platinum; the moon has reserves of Helium-3, a gas that can be used to fuel the fusion reactors that will be planted on the moon in the future. The fusion reactors can be used to provide ‘clean/radioactivity free’ energy to the future habitants of the moon.
Moon Express means serious business; earlier they won $500,000 in NASA’s ‘Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data Program’ and another $1.25 million in Google‘s ‘Lunar XPRIZE competition’. The ‘Lunar XPRIZE competition’ has a prize money of $30 million for the first team that is able to land a commercial lunar-spacecraft. The competition gets a little specific in lieu of the clauses that require the craft to travel 500 meters across the lunar surface and to relay back High-Definition pictures and videos to earth. A considerable sum of $60 million awaits the one who is able to accomplish the commercial lunar mission. Both NASA and Google are keen to make this happen and they are the financiers of this cash prize.
Google gave the cash prize to this company because they were the only team out of the 16 that was able to test a prototype. They didn’t make it to the moon yet but were able to ‘land’ ahead of their competition in this space race. The spacecraft called the ’MX’ has had several design alterations. The design incorporates a spacecraft family that can reach the moon’s surface from the earth’s orbit.
The Mountain View, another Californian company in the space business has partnered with NASA for Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing. The objective is to boost commercial cargo transportation capabilities to the lunar surface. NASA is also in collaboration with other privately owned space companies like ‘Astrobotic Technologies’ from Pittsburgh and ’Masten Space Systems’ from California, to work on commercial robotic technology for space.
Naveen Jain, billionaire/tech-entrepreneur, is the co-founder of Moon Express. According to him, the rockets have advanced considerably in the previous year, which makes their dream more plausible. The Moon Express lunar landers can use small rockets to get to the lower earth orbit. The Rocket Lab has created a design so efficient that each launch would cost less than $5 million. For a contrast, consider the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which costs more than $50 million per launch. This difference gets even more significant when you look at the launches that took before SpaceX, which would cost as much as $100 million per launch.
The Moon Express design has two rocket propellers stacked on top of each other. The first being a booster rocket and the second would allow for landing on the moon. As a result we can use smaller rockets and achieve a longer range.
The moon express has two options, either to launch their craft form the Space launch complex number 36 at Cape Canaveral or a Rocket Lab launch pad in New Zealand. The MX-1 will be tethered to a satellite and put into lower earth orbit. From there the MX-1 will fire its own hydrogen peroxide rocket, and launch itself from the orbit and make its journey to the moon.
Moon Express had previously planned to send their lander to the moon as early as 2017, but Google has decided to postpone the Lunar XPRIZE competition to 2017 and to 2020. Jain has received this with optimism and has said that this delay has allowed his team to work on technology that would allow the sent vehicles to return from the International Space Station (ISS) or the moon and hopefully from even beyond that.
Rocket Lab was founded in 2007, under a major investment made by the venture capital firms ‘Khosla Ventures’ and ‘Bessemer Venture Partners’ and the infamous aerospace and defense developing company Lockheed.